“I felt like I was in the eye of the storm,” mum-of-one Clare recalls the loneliness and despair as she struggled with anxiety during her pregnancy.
A pressure group are campaigning to make mental health services better for new and expectant mums suffering from perinatal depression.
Having a baby can be the biggest, happiest moment in a woman’s life – but many who struggle to deal with such an overwhelming life change often suffer in silence.
Perinatal depression – which develops before and after childbirth – affects around 11,500 women in Scotland every year.
New mums can develop a range of conditions from anxiety, depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to post-partum psychosis, which can lead to hallucinations and intrusive thoughts.
Launched in 2015, Maternal Mental Health Scotland Change Agents have around 30 members who have overcome mental health issues during motherhood and want to challenge the stigma around perinatal depression.
The group have worked with NHS health boards across the country to improve services, consulted the Scottish Government on policy changes to its mental health strategy and even helped launch new baby boxes so mums know how to seek help.
Librarian and group volunteer Clare Thompson, 37, recalls her own experiences while she was pregnant with her daughter Zoey five years ago.
She told Glasgow Live: “I felt like I wasn’t connected with being pregnant and I just went about my business. I had mental health problems 10 years ago, but I had never had medication at that time.
“I felt like I was in the eye of the storm. I knew something was coming but I didn’t know what it was.”
She visited a community psychiatric nurse once a month to share her worries over the pregnancy, but found her anxiety worsened after Zoey was born.
She added: “I just couldn’t sleep, I was so anxious that she would wake up and I would have to feed her. It triggered extreme anxiety.
“You feel no joy. There’s nothing to look forward to. You feel like you’ll disappoint everyone if you tell them how you are feeling.
“There is a particular stigma around perinatal mental health because you’ve got a baby to look after. Mums can be scared their child will be taken away from them if they speak out.”
Clare checked into the mother and baby clinic at Leverndale Hospital for five weeks to help her bond with Zoey in the months following her birth.
The clinic hosted group therapy sessions, weekly check-ins with the psychiatric nurse.
She said: “It’s a place for you to try and get to know your baby, be comfortable and have people to help you with things. Depression and anxiety can affect people physically. If you’re tired it’s difficult to look after a baby, so some of the pressure is taken off you. It’s not all on you to keep this baby alive.”
Though Clare describes the NHS’s support for new mums in Glasgow as “excellent,” she said services across the country are “fragmented” – which is something the Maternal Mental Health Scotland Change Agents want to improve.
“We want to make it equal across Scotland, so that a mum in the Borders can get the same help as someone in Orkney,” she said.
“When women ask for help to be told there is none, that’s unacceptable. We don’t want to be telling them to go to the GP where they are given a pill and wait until it gets better.
“We know our voices are quite loud because we have lived through this. We know we will be heard by the government and help drive change. We want all mums to know they don’t have to go through this alone.”