When mothers suffer, babies suffer. It's time the world realized this, say maternal mental health experts

Updated 4:12 AM ET, Thu May 26, 2022

This story is part of As Equals, CNN's ongoing series on gender inequality. For information about how the series is funded and more, check out our FAQs.

(CNN)Postpartum depression (PPD) is estimated to affect more than one in ten women who have a baby and is just one of many mood disorders that a woman can get during pregnancy or in the first year after birth, known as the perinatal period.

Yet these conditions, known as perinatal mood disorders, remain largely misunderstood by the public and healthcare providers alike, said experts at a roundtable discussion hosted by CNN's gender reporting team As Equals.
Following CNN's story about one family's tragic experience with PPD, which resonated widely with audiences, As Equals brought together an international group of people with both experience of and expertise in maternal mental health to discuss the true prevalence of these disorders, their root causes, the challenges in diagnosing and treating them, and finally, potential solutions.

A 'lack of appreciation' for mental health in motherhood

The conversation started with panelists saying that the number of women affected by perinatal mood disorders is likely to be much higher than one in 10, and they unanimously agreed that the issue remains neglected by health services worldwide.
"There is still this pervasive concept that mental health considerations are a luxury," said Simone Honikman, founder and director of the Perinatal Mental Health Project in Cape Town, South Africa.
She went on to explain that a woman's mental health not only impacts her physical health but also that of her child whether directly or indirectly because when suffering with a mental health condition, she may not seek other health services that are crucial for her or the wellbeing of her child.
"There's a lack of appreciation of the fact that these mental health conditions do in fact impact physical health conditions directly and are very closely associated with a range of physical health considerations, whether it's service uptake, health seeking behavior, preterm birth, low birth weight, babies stunting in infants, use of attendance to antiretroviral therapies or other forms of treatment," Honikman said.