AWARE NI: Helping mums who say ‘I can’t cope’

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Marina McCully, a Training and Education Officer in the charity AWARE NI

AWARE NI’s Marina McCully tells VIEW how her organisation supports women who are suffering from postnatal depression

People might think postnatal depression is easy to define, but according to Marina McCully of AWARE NI, that isn’t the case. “Postnatal depression may be hard to diagnose, partly because the new mother might think ‘Is it a low mood, is it just me or am I a bad mother? And it’s not talked about.”
The charity –  founded in 1996 to tackle the depressive spectrum – now finds over a quarter of its workshop clients have postnatal depression. Their programme Mood Matters is designed for expectant and new parents and over the past two years, has reached nearly 1,000 women.
Marina McCully (45), the Training and Education Officer, said: “Stigma can be a problem. A new mum may not want to admit to her family and friends that she isn’t coping very well, yet in the group she can.”
The charity’s evidence-based programme works by introducing participants to CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and self-help strategies.
Marina McCully said: “Our programme is for everyone but 28 percent of the women attending have been diagnosed with postnatal depression. Half of the women report some anxiety and depression but are undiagnosed.”
 Ms McCully thinks cases of postnatal depression may not be being picked up by the health services as mothers are embarrassed to come forward.
Ms McCully is one of the leaders of the Mood Matters programme, funded by the Public Health Authority.
Some clients’ stories remain with you, she revealed: “One girl I recall in her late 20s had no family support at all, having moved here from the north. Her first baby had been born with Down’s syndrome and other medical complications, and she was crying a lot. She said she felt very alone and hadn’t talked about the situation before. The big words that emerge and reveal a problem are ‘I can’t cope.’.” The woman had received no diagnosis and was advised to consult her GP, which she did.
There is no easy way of measuring the severity of maternal mental illness, Marina said:  “We deal with mild to moderate cases which can be still be debilitating without support.”
Yet the condition can be life-threatening. Figures revealed recently by the Northern Ireland Maternity System study, carried out at Queen’s University, showed 101 deaths of new mothers by suicide between 2009 and 2013. Also, the research suggested a higher rate of maternal mental health than was previously thought.
AWARE NI teams have also discovered that pregnant women who are finding it hard to quit smoking may already be under increased pressure. It’s a question of stress. Workshops help women to tackle that, to be in the moment, one area where children are excellent guides.
Marina McCully said: “With a baby, you have no choice, they locate you in the moment.”
When Marina McCully’s mother experienced  depression before she was born in the 1970s, there was little understanding or help available.
“She already had three children under four, went to her doctor but couldn’t be prescribed medication as she was pregnant and there were no other services available. My grandmother visited every day and one day the ‘black cloud’ just lifted.



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