Mental health is not only one of the most overlooked facets of health around the globe, but also one of the most important features of holistic health. Although depression, the most prevalent mental illness, is the leading cause of disability in the world, the U.S. spends less than $2 per person on researching and investing in mental health. Unfortunately, the developing world has even less to spend on making its people mentally well.
This is a problem for mothers in low-income countries who develop postpartum depression. According to the World Health Organization, 20-40 percent of women in developing nations experience postpartum depression, which is the moderate to severe depressive state induced by childbirth. That figure likely does not account for the women who suffer in silence, as postpartum depression – like all depression – is highly stigmatized in many corners of the globe and is one of many reasons that affected women may not seek treatment.
Studies from the University of Michigan show a high correlation between maternal mental health and the health outcomes of their children. The children of mothers who live with postpartum depression are at significantly higher risk of child mortality, malnutrition and chronic illness.
To raise awareness about maternal mental health, an organization called Postpartum Progress hosted an event on June 21 in which it encouraged women around the world to hike or climb mountains in order to symbolize the “climb out of darkness” that women experience when they recover from postpartum depression. This event is the largest in the world that creates awareness about the intersection between mental and perinatal health. Though solving postpartum depression for mothers around the world will require much more than awareness, this event is an honorable first step in the right direction. The next steps needed are the infrastructure for treatment and long-term recovery options.
Making mental health a priority in the developing world is crucial to seeing poverty become less prevalent. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression have decreased ability to seek or keep employment, take care of their families and access other resources. The declining health of children with suffering mothers may also pull other family members out of the workforce as they stay home to care for both mother and child. In order to see a world free of poverty, international global health campaigns must address all mental illnesses, including postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is an overlooked issue, but with increased attention to all mental health threats, it is an issue that can be resolved. Mothers in the developing world deserve the same care and attention we give to those affected by more well-known conditions, such as malaria. By attending to the needs of women with postpartum depression, we create a better world and a more prosperous future for not only them, but their children as well.
— Elise L. Riley