October is recognised as Mental Health month as well as Eye Care Awareness month. Although mental health awareness is becoming a frequently talked about subject, there are still insufficient education programmes to support, unpack and de-stigmatise it within society and local communities.
The Department of Health aims to educate the public around mental health with the hope of reducing the discrimination attached to people who suffer from mental illness. Mental health varies in severity and without the right support, can be debilitating. For example, expectant mothers could be suffering from depression due to the pregnancy being a life-changing milestone that brings on multiple overwhelming emotions and challenges.
“Prioritising mental health is important if we are to foster an inclusive society for all. Breaking barriers to understanding mental health needs to come with an openness to normalising it and eradicating the stigma associated with it “, says Dr Millard Arnold, University of the Free State Council member.
Pregnancy adds pressure on the mother and father from a physical, financial, emotional and psychological perspective due to the changes that unfold in the process. Some expectant mothers suffer from depression either during pregnancy or after baby is born (post-partum depression) and this creates a stressful dynamic during baby’s first 1000 days.
The first 1000 days of baby’s life is a critical period during which a child’s brain forms as many as 1000 neural connections every second, a once-in-a-lifetime series of events never to be repeated during their lives. Providing baby with the required medical care and monitoring ongoing breastfeeding and nutrition, immunisations and overall optimal care during this period is vital to ensure baby follows a healthy and stable growth process.
It is important that mothers-to-be have a reliable support system they can turn to when feeling stressed, withdrawn, anxious or if their mental health has deteriorated. In prioritising medical, counselling and support services to mothers, the Mother and Child Academic Hospital Foundation (MACAHF) raise national awareness in highlighting the importance of maternal mental health and overall wellness to begin their journey of motherhood in the safest and healthiest way for them and baby. The MACAH Foundation is spearheading this by promoting the “Make the first 1000 Days Count” initiative.
Part of ongoing infant care during the baby’s first 1000 days includes checking that the baby’s senses are operating at optimal capacity. This includes checking the baby’s eyesight and having the necessary medical services available for infant eye care to detect if the baby has any special needs issues. If infant eyecare is compromised during the first 1000 days, this could have a long-term effect on a baby’s eye development in future, especially for babies born prematurely.
“Building a solid family foundation is important for both baby and parents so they can thrive and be equipped to cope with other pressures they may be faced with like mental health. Mental health can affect anyone, therefore it is vital to have as much support during this journey to minimize the impact of possible trauma”, concludes Arnold.