Maternal mental disorders are understood as a wide range of emotional and psychological reactions a woman may experience during pregnancy or within 12 months of delivery. Maternal mental disorders include maternal depression as well as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.  The term maternal depression encompasses a range of conditions that can affect women during pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. This spectrum of conditions includes prenatal depression, the “baby blues,” postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.

About 450 million people worldwide suffer from a mental health condition, making it one of the leading causes of ill health. Millions with disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia struggle to get treatment due to lack of resources and the stigmatisation of mental health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that four out of five people with severe mental disorders living in low- and middle-income countries do not receive mental health services and treatment. Pregnant women are particularly at risk of maternal mental disorders.

Depression can affect any woman, regardless of income, geographical location or social status. Mothers are especially vulnerable to depression. They are prone to experiencing debilitating symptoms, such as a chronically depressed mood, inadequate sleep, low energy and feelings of hopelessness, making it more difficult to parent effectively. Most critically, mothers are denied the full opportunity to promote their children’s social, emotional and physical wellbeing and the experience of fulfilling parenthood.

Seeking help is inhibited by the stigma surrounding depression, lack of knowledge, lack of affordable and appropriate treatment, and fear of looking like an incompetent mother and, at worst, having their child taken away.  A significant number of women are unaware that they have a treatable illness, and most others refuse to speak about it for fear of discrimination, isolation and blame. Raising awareness around maternal mental health allows us to change the narrative around the realities of motherhood. That motherhood is not all cuddles and baby kisses but can be filled with sleepless nights, personal sacrifice, and self-doubt.

The Kenyan government developed the Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030, providing a framework for interventions for securing mental health systems reforms in Kenya. This is in line with the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Vision 2030, the Kenya Health Policy (2014-2030) and Kenya’s global commitments. This policy seeks to address the systemic challenges and emerging trends and mitigate mental health problems and disorders. The Kenya Mental Health Policy 2015-2030 is a commitment to pursuing policy measures and strategies for achieving optimal health status for every individual.  Unfortunately, the policy is not specific to maternal mental health. There is a need for active lobbying and a proactive approach to recognising maternal depression as an urgent health issue that needs to be addressed beyond the traditional public health systems.