I am usually excited by scientific discoveries, especially when they mean the world is closer to finding a cure for diseases like AIDS or cancer, or new treatments or genetic code breakthroughs, that mean we understand diseases or conditions better, and why they happen. I am fascinated by the human body, how it works, and what happens when it doesn’t work the way it is meant to.
I was, however, not excited by the news that a scientist, has discovered this week, how two possible genetic markers for Post Natal Depression, actually work, and the hormonal pathways and processes that could possibly trigger Post Natal Depression in a large percentage of women, and the resulting articles claiming that women could be tested, pre-natally for the condition, to see what their risk of the disease is. The full article from the Telegraph is here, but basically, they think they have found the genetic markers which could show which women are more likely to suffer with Post Natal Depression and are whooping and shouting that they could test all pregnant women, and pin down those with the markers. In theory this is marvellous, because yes, we could then ring-fence all women with the markers, observe them, assess them, and at the first signs of depression, throw them into the chaos that is the mental health system in this country, and depending on where a woman lived, and the state of her local mental health/maternity services, she may or may not get appropriate help, treatment and support. (I was very lucky, the treatment and support I received once I was diagnosed, was excellent, but that is not the case with so many women)
As someone who struggled with anxiety and mild depression, and eating disorders, then Post Natal Depression, after my first child was born, you would think I would be delighted that they have now worked out a way to find out which women may be more prone to PND. It’s a terrible mental health condition, that causes a lot of pain, heartache and can be devastating, but I don’t believe that testing women for the possible marker genes will do anything to improve things. I personally think it will increase anxiety levels, put more pressure on pregnant women and new mothers, and also on an already over stretched Maternity service and it’s health care professionals.
Also, from what I understand, the genetic markers don’t show that their carriers WILL suffer from Post Natal Depression, just that they are more likely to. As a naturally anxious person, I think knowing that I had a “marker” for PND would make me even more anxious and possibly send me into a depressive cycle. I have chatted with a few people on Facebook and Twitter who also feel this way. I would refuse any tests, if they were offered to me. I already know that I may be prone to PND, and am aware of the signs and symptoms.
I personally think that there is very little in the way of good post-partum support for new mothers, particularly where I live. I was pretty much left to get on with things, after the birth of both children, with a small amount of support from the midwives, then the health visiting team, which second time round, when I was more confident in my parenting skills and looking after a newborn and knew how breastfeeding works, wasn’t so much of an issue, but first time round, it was, I believe, crucial, in being partially why I was missed by the system, and not diagnosed until Big Girl was 18 months old. Maybe, if I had had a “test” and they knew I was more prone to PND, then I would have got more support, but given how stressed and stretched midwifery and health visiting services are, I doubt it. Perhaps if the powers that be put more money into providing enough health visitors, properly trained and qualified nursery nurses, more post natal support for new mothers, and we had more midwives, able to devote their time to the women in their care, then we might make more of an impact on the lives of women struggling with, or more prone to mental health issues after the birth of their babies.
I am more sad, that so much money is being put into this research, when really, funding for support, counselling, breastfeeding safe medications, and CBT should be the priority. Pinpointing a certain number of the population as prone to something, doesn’t actually cure it or make it go away.
I was surprised at myself, feeling this way, because I feel quite strongly about being tested for other things, for example, there is a possibility I may consider being tested for the BRAC gene that causes breast cancer, because of the family history I have, on my maternal side. I have no problem with this. I would want to know, that I might be at higher risk, so I could take action, but I feel uncomfortable with a test for my mental health. I can’t quite pin down why, or the logic of one and the revulsion I feel at the other?
I would be interested in hearing what other people have to say about this “discovery”, and it’s implications for women’s mental health, and if you have struggled with PND, whether you would have wanted to be tested? Is this just another thing to add to the stress of pregnancy and more tests and possible labels that aren’t necessarily accurate or do you think it would really help? Please share your thoughts, and feel free to share this blog post.
I’ve shared this post on Post Comment Love. Click on the linky to read more posts from this week.