Depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are the three most common mental health conditions experienced in the ‘perinatal period’ (during pregnancy and after birth), with around 10-20% of people who give birth experiencing one of these conditions.
Twin Pregnancy & Mental Health
Twin pregnancies by their very nature can be stressful, and many parents who are expecting multiples experience anxiety or depressive symptoms to some degree. Mothers of multiple pregnancies are more likely to experience mental health issues in the perinatal period according to the NHS, and the UK-based charity Twins Trust highlights the reasons why the risks are increased. Twin pregnancy is more prone to complications, especially monochorionic pregnancies, which may increase worries before the babies are even born. The increased likelihood of a NICU stay can be an exhausting and stressful experience. Many parents of multiples will experience a distinct lack of sleep, which in turn can impact the mental health of both parents.
Anxiety & Depression
Anxiety and depression can be experienced together or independently of each other, and you may experience some symptoms and not others. Symptoms of anxiety may include feeling ‘on edge’ or restless, an increased heart rate, irritability, sleeping issues and not being able to control feelings of worry. Low mood, decreased motivation, and feelings of worthlessness can indicate depression. Sometimes a person experiencing depression may feel that life is not worth living or they may have active plans to end their own life.
It is important to remember that like any illness, there are many different treatment options available, including (but not limited to) medication and talking therapies. You may be concerned about taking medication, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, but there are medications available that are safer to take during this period and your doctor should be able to advise you on which may be right for you. Talking therapies can help to equip you with coping strategies to manage your worries or to help change your thought processes, again, there are many different types of talking therapies, and talking to a healthcare professional can help you to decide which is the best option for you.
What To Do
If you find yourself worrying, or feel that your mood is low, you might find it helpful to confide in someone that is close to you, and speak to a healthcare professional to seek further support. Sometimes people feel that it is easier to speak to someone that they don’t know to enable them to be honest about how they are feeling, and most countries have dedicated mental health helplines (or general mental health helplines), that have trained volunteers to support mothers, fathers and other caregivers involved in the pregnancy and postnatal period.
If you are worried about your partner’s mental health, and aren’t sure about how to help them, you could consider contacting a helpline and discussing your worries with a healthcare professional. There are also very many useful resources for twin parents on the internet, where you can speak to people who may have had similar experiences to you, or are going through something similar.
In the case of a mental health emergency (for example- if you do not feel you can keep yourself or your babies safe), you can go to your local Emergency Department (Accident and Emergency) or call an ambulance.
And remember, it is okay not to be okay- there is always someone that wants to help.
Lucy Shenton – Registered Mental Health Nurse (UK)- BSc (HONs) and twin mum.
If you are experiencing any symptoms or signs described above, please reach out to your healthcare provider, your local support networks, or speak with your family and friends. There is no shame in seeking help.