The Perintal Mental Health Project (PMHP) is a non-profit organization based at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. It is run in partnership with the Departments of Health and Social Development.
They run several programmes where they aim to address mental health by advocating for accessible maternal mental health care that can be delivered in low resource settings. They work with pregnant women, post natal women and even those who work with mothers to improve the quality of care they receive.
PMHP will be blogging soon to bring us more information as to what perinatal health is all about and what programmes they run in this project.
We took a look at the stories of some of the mothers they have helped and selected one (with their permission) to post on our site.
We at OLE are really inspired by the great work this organization is doing for mental health in South Africa.
“When I first became a mother, I didn’t know about depression. Now I would like to let everyone know about this problem so that people can stand up and do something about it.
I was born, one of twins. My parents divorced when I was only two months old. Because my mother was alone she couldn’t do what she was supposed to do as a mother and I grew up with her family. There was really no one to talk to or to discipline us and I became pregnant at the age of 14. I have suffered depression since then.
Having a baby at such an early age was really hard. I had to leave school and was forced to work as a domestic worker, which I couldn’t really do because I was so young. I tried very hard, but I just couldn’t do it. So, I decided to go back to school when my baby was three years old. I passed my standard nine [penultimate year of high school], but didn’t have enough money to register for my final year. I was forced again to go back to work as a domestic worker; which I am still doing to this day.
When I was twenty-one years old, I got married to my husband. He is not the father of my first child. A couple years after being married, we had a child together. I again suffered very much from postnatal depression, although I did not know what it was called at the time. The clinic I went to in the township did not know anything about depression. So, I was unable to get help from them. Luckily, my husband was always there for me and supportive throughout my depression, even though he didn’t always understand what I was going through.
Since then, I suffered from depression until I was able to get help from the Perinatal Mental Health Project in 2004. This was the first time I heard about perinatal or postnatal depression. I had suffered from depression all these years, but I didn’t really know what it was. Finally, I was able to get help.When I was pregnant with my last baby, I was working for Linda, a psychologist. I was not at all happy to be pregnant. I was just very stressed and worried about telling her. I knew it was not the right time for me to become pregnant and I was very concerned about my job and all the things that I needed money for. But I realised that I needed to tell Linda, not only because she was my employer, but because I needed help. Everything was very hectic for me and nothing that I was experiencing seemed to be good. I knew that I was becoming more and more depressed.
I finally told Linda when I was 5 months pregnant. It turns out that she specialises in women who have perinatal and postnatal depression and when she heard my history she thought I was suffering from it. She decided to take the step to get help for me by sending me to the Mowbray Maternity Hospital which provides the Perinatal Mental Health Project.
At Mowbray, I met with a counsellor. It was very good to speak to her about how I was feeling and to just talk out about everything. That was what was killing me, having to keep all my feelings inside of me for a long time. I was so lonely and there were so many things that I needed someone to listen to. I needed to express my feelings and to be heard when I was saying something. I needed someone who could understand and who could listen when I was talking. Meeting with this counsellor gave me that chance to finally speak out, which helped so much. They also sent me to a psychiatrist to get medication for my depression. Now I am doing just fine and coping very well with motherhood. Dealing with perinatal and postnatal depression is a very difficult thing.
When you are depressed there are so many things that are affecting you. You may not be able to tell exactly what it is that is making you feel so bad, but just that you can’t get out from the fog you are in. Everything can feel like it is just falling apart, that nothing is happening right or according to plans. You may not know to take it seriously when you are first suffering from it, but it is very important to address it and to find a way out. There are so many women who are dying inside from this thing. They don’t know how to deal with it or how to cope. Everything in their lives is turning upside down. And they need someone who will understand and not judge them.
That is why I talk about this depression with everyone. I even talk to mothers I see on the bus. I want everyone to know about this problem. I want the mothers to listen. If I could have my way, each and every one of the hospitals would have these kinds of counsellors, especially the government hospitals which are for everybody. That way everyone, including women who really don’t know anything about this depression, could get help. Until that happens, I hope that all the mothers out there, who are suffering from perinatal and postnatal depression, will take care of themselves and find support. You only live once, and it does not have to be a life filled with depression!”
* Ntombombzi has given consent to tell her story and use her photo, pictured together with her daughter Liphiwe