‘Mummies aren’t mean to cry’

These rather poignant words were uttered by a tearful 38 year old woman at my Clinic in Manchester. She was in fact quoting her bewildered youngest child who had found her bawling her eyes out one afternoon when everything just got too much.

Depression in mums is surprisingly common, yet very much overlooked. Postnatal depression, quite rightly, is widely recognised now, with health visitors and midwives trained to look for signs and symptoms. But depression amongst mums of older children is also prevalent; in fact, Australian research in 2014 suggests that mothers are twice as likely to suffer from depression when their child is four years old than when they are a new baby. Later onset ‘mummy depression’ tends to be under-reported due to lack of awareness; many of the mums that I treat at my clinic are convinced that they are the only mums in the playground fighting this terrible condition.

People generally don’t talk about mental illness much, but I think mums are even less likely than most to talk about depression. Most of the mums I see in my clinic feel terribly guilty about their low mood and there is a strong feeling that they ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling the way they do. The conviction is that if they have healthy kids and can manage financially, then they have no right to feel down.

Indeed, many of the mums who come to me do have all that – and more. Many are financially secure, have delightful children, active social lives, holidays abroad…they seem to have it all. Yet they are still depressed – and overwhelmed with guilt at feeling so.

Part of the cause of a lot of depression these days is social comparison and never has this been more prevalent that in a world dominated by social media. In the old days, the only lives we had to compare with were those of our immediate neighbours – and, being in the same socio-economic group (probably) they tended to live pretty similar lives to us. Bar the odd 11 plus success, seaside destination or new-fangled household gadget, the lives of our parents and grandparents would not have been a million miles away from those of the people they mixed with.

Nowadays, thanks to Facebook and other social media, it is all so different. Our lives are so public –and on social media, we can see the successes and achievements of a much wider variety of people, many of whom seem to enjoy lives that are far more fun, exciting, productive and adventurous than our own. Uber-Mums, with sparkling careers, boast of their kids’ every achievement, as well as each minute detail of their hectic social lives. It is easy to feel that everyone else is living the dream, with the perfect career, partner, home, holidays, and, of course, kids.

The reality is often far more different – in fact, it is often those most prolific posters who are the most insecure about their lives. An alarming number of mums feel that the rather more humdrum lives than they care to admit to publically, don’t match those of everyone else’s. Add to this the pressure to be the ‘perfect’ mum (a report in 2013 suggested that 22% of new mothers felt pressure to get things right) as mums are pelted with parenting advice from all sides about everything from diet, extra-curricular activities, stimulation, toys and discipline – it is no wonder that many mums feel disheartened in their attempts to get it right. The leap to feeling inadequate and being plagued by low self-esteem is clear – and these feelings can easily lead to a spiralling into depression.

Studies suggest that financial worries can also a big factor for some whilst the stress and strain of juggling work and family life can also be contributors to depression. Stay-at-home mums may, in fact, struggle more than working mums; according to a survey of 60 000 mums in America, 28% of stay at home mums reported depression ‘a lot of the day’ compared with 17% of employed mums. It is thought that isolation, lack of appreciation and lack of accomplishment are factors that lead to the home-mums being so vulnerable to depression.

Any mums who are experiencing symptoms of depression (such as crying a lot, struggling to make decisions, spending daytime in bed or slumped in front of the TV, feeling worthless, constantly comparing themselves unfavourably to others etc) should know they are not alone. There is no shame in feeling this way and there should be no embarrassment about seeking help, either from friends, self-help books or even professional input (via your GP or a private therapist).

Perhaps mummies aren’t meant to cry – but they do. Everyone gets down at times, but if these feelings are frequent or are very severe, it is time to do something about it.

Dr Sandi Mann is the director of The MindTraining Clinic and specialises in the treatment of phobias, panic attacks and anxiety conditions. She is also author of ‘Surviving The Terrible Teens’ and ‘Dealing With Difficult Eaters’, both published by Crimson. www.mindtrainingclinic.co.uk

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