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The Founder's Story

Pasqueline Njau
Maternal mental health is an issue that is not taken seriously and has a cemented stigma attached to it in the society. The stigma has prevented open dialogue, education and aid. Many people are labeled as mad and these attitudes within the society have made it challenging for women to seek help. Physical illness is put above mental illness, as it is more acceptable, it gains more support, sympathy and sensitivity from people. Societal expectations for women with children is high, as a woman who has given birth society expects you to bond immediately with the child, for you to take care of the baby without getting tired, you are expected to be happy as you do have a blessing (a child) and if there are seen signs of tiredness or fatigue then you do not deserve the title. My name is Pasqueline Njau and this is my story.
As a wife and a mother of three beautiful daughters my friends and those who know me well will tell you I am a strong person and always appear happy. I am the last person you would expect would suffer from a mental condition. But you see, the people you least expect are the ones who are affected the most, because no one really checks on them, they are always assumed to be okay.

After the birth of my second born daughter I felt overwhelmed by everything, small tasks made me feel like breaking down and crying, everything was just too much for me. There are nights I cried no sleep and myself to sleep. One moment I will be happy and the next minute I will be so sad and break down. The task of taking care of my daughters was a tough one. Inside me I was a bad mother and they were better off without me. But the thought of committing suicide was too scary.

It felt like I sunk into a deep hole that no one could get me out of. It was so dark, lonely and I didn’t even know myself anymore. It was the darkest phase of my life.

It took a friend to realize I might be ill and needed to seek help. A counselor was recommended to me and I sort her help. She told me I was suffering from Postpartum depression. This is where my recovery began. She walked with me to full recovery.

Depression changes you into someone you cannot even recognize. Depression does not only affect you, it also affects the people around you. The baby suffers and if you are married, your marriage stands to suffer as well and in my case the later was the case. My marriage was on its knees. I was about to walk out of my marriage when help came in the form of a counselor. After recovery I decided that I would not sit down and watch other women suffer in that darkness anymore, I decided to rise up and look for solutions. 
According to the World Health Organization (WHO): worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental illness, primarily depression. In developing countries the percentage is at 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after childbirth. There is a lack of proper maternal mental health care. Majority of women who suffer from maternal mental illnesses have little or no knowledge of the illnesses hence suffer in silence and do not seek medical attention. Infanticide cases (the crime of a mother killing her child within a year of birth often as a result of extreme emotional disturbance) are on the rise but very few interventions are available to curb the trend. Mental illness is common but the existence of social stigma has led to its silence, which leads to discrimination.

Many women are suffering in silence with no information on what to do or where to seek help. I was that mother; I did not have enough information and did not know the impact of depression until I was walking in those shoes. These findings led me to start a Facebook page “Maternal Mental Health Awareness and Support” now “Calmind Foundation”. It is a forum where we share maternal mental health information, conditions and services; we educate pregnant women, mothers and fathers on maternal mental health and the need for taking care of their mental well-being. The more I interacted with the mothers on those forums the more I felt the need to do more than just create awareness. I felt the need to provide more sustainable solutions.

After wide consultations and thanks to collaboration with other persons who have suffered or lived with either of the maternal mental illnesses, counsellors, psychologists and people who are committed to promoting maternal mental health, Calmind Foundation was formed.