By: Sara Ball, Director of Strategic Planning and Internal Systems, Fahe
Art work is by Stephen Wiggins – Stephen Wiggins Artwork – GALLERY
Like so many other women, the pandemic has taken a toll on me. I celebrated my first official Mother’s Day during the pandemic. While being a mom is something I dreamed of for a long time, it was definitely an adjustment. We adjusted to having a new family member, my husband completing graduate school, getting a new job, and learning to permanently work from home in a very short amount of time.
Sadly, my story isn’t rare. In addition to the numerous changes in our family and work dynamics, I suffered from post-partum depression and struggled with my first months of motherhood. A time that “should be” full of joy was full of tears, from exhaustion, frustration, and being completely overwhelmed. I didn’t seek help for a long time. It wasn’t on account of pride, or lack of access to resources, as my husband is a mental health counselor, and mental health is important in our home. I think it was the disorienting changes. It was difficult to differentiate whether I was experiencing a mental health crisis or if I was experiencing the side effects of the combination of exhaustion due to lack of sleep, post-pregnancy hormonal imbalance, and recovery from a C-section.
Thankfully, I had a support system that included my wonderful husband, a contentious and responsive medical team that consisting of both my OBGYN and General Practitioner, and a great employer with comprehensive health benefits. I was able to access medication, and when that didn’t help, as it made me yawn all the time and have thoughts about death and suicide, I was able to request an alternative medication. In addition, I was able to engage in counseling that was covered by my insurance. I am standing here today, whole and healthy, because I have support in many forms, including family, friends, mental health professionals, and access to health benefits provided by my employer.
Reflecting upon this critical part of my motherhood journey, I realize that millions of mothers in America don’t have that support. Some of them may choose not to seek professional help that might be true. But there are millions of people who live on a gig economy that has been thrashed by the pandemic, who are caregivers for others and may not have reliable and affordable healthcare, and who have been on unemployment through no fault of their own. How can we assist the millions of mothers that lack a reliable family network or financial means to seek post-partum mental health services?
I heard this week that alcohol and substance abuse and addiction is at an all-time high. As an example, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- 8 million young adults (18-25) reported having a mental illness
- 42 % of those with mental illness went untreated
- 1 million young adults (18-25) reported having a substance use disorder
- 87% of those with substance use disorders went untreated
These are just numbers of young people who were willing to share their data with researchers. FYI – there are some early thoughts around how COVID is affecting the mental health of new moms, but no real data yet. Two places to find articles about this topic – Very Well Family and Science Daily.
People are hurting, and sometimes self-medicating, because they don’t have support systems. What can we do? Do we advocate for better healthcare and services for those who are at risk? YES! Most of us, however, will never be in a position to affect change on that large of a scale. One thing that can be done is that we, (and yes, I include myself in this group), can reach out and love another human being.
May is the month we celebrate Mothers. It is also the month we lift up Mental Health Awareness. In my personal journey, the two are intertwined. There are people for whom Mother’s Day is a rough day: struggling with missing mothers, abusive mothers, estranged mothers, infertility, estranged children, missing children, addicted children, and addicted mothers. There are people for whom mental health is a shame-filled and/or untreated struggle that consumes their lives. Both of these groups of people need kindness, love, and service. Think about how you can serve those in your family, neighborhood, work place, or community. Take them a meal. Make them a card. Bring them flowers. Cut someone’s grass. Listen. Spread kindness.
This May, I challenge you – regardless of your relationship with your own mom, make someone’s momma proud of how you care for yourself and treat others.