Leeds Mum Shares Her Story to Reduce Mental Health Stigma

When Leeds mum Sarah Sturdy gave birth prematurely, the traumatic experience made it difficult to bond with her son and left her feeling depressed and anxious.

Now Sarah is speaking out about her experiences of mental health difficulties during pregnancy and after her son was born, in a bid to encourage other parents to get support if they are struggling.

Sarah, 33, from Roundhay, says: “I was already 11 week pregnant when I found out I was going to be a mum and I she felt under pressure from the start. I was so excited at first. But then I started worrying and asking myself lots of questions. Will I cope? Will I be a perfect mum or will I fail? I had experienced depression in the past and I was scared my baby might be taken away if people thought I couldn’t cope.”

Sarah’s son, Harrison, who is almost two years-old, was born nearly two months prematurely – an experience that was very traumatic and meant the pair had to stay in hospital for nearly a month. She says: “I was scared to hold him as I felt like he would break in my arms. Everyone talks about maternal instinct but I didn’t even understand what that meant.”

During that time, early support she got from midwives helped: “The midwives were really patient with me and arranged for me to have my own room which helped me feel less pressure around the other new mums who all seemed to be coping so well.”

After leaving hospital, she was referred to the mental health mother and baby unit and got intensive support at home. Sarah had a care plan in which she set her own goals to achieve, and got support from talking through concerns and practical support with shopping which helped build her confidence.

A psychologist from the infant mental health team helped her to bond with her baby, and she got therapy to help her manage her depression and anxiety. She also attended play groups at her local children’s centre which helped her meet new people.

Nearly two years on, she is enrolling on an MA in Creative Writing and Drama in Education and is hoping to help other parents by telling her story as part of an animation being produced by Leeds charity Inkwell Arts Media for the NHS due to be launched on the Mindwell website later this year.

Sarah says: “One of the most helpful pieces of advice I got was from my infant mental health worker. She told me to trust in myself that I am doing the best job I can as a parent with what is presented to me at the given time.”

She adds: “It can be a very lonely, frightening place but the most important thing to do is talk open up to those around you – your doctor, midwife, health visitor, or a friend or family member. Having mental health problems such as depression or anxiety doesn’t make you a bad parent, and, with the right support, you can get better.”

You can find practical advice and details of support in Leeds at www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk/baby.

The NHS in Leeds is also looking for people who have had similar experiences to get involved either by sharing their story on a new online photo collage or joining a group to help improve support services in the city. People who are interested can contact 07549 292938 or email media@inkwellarts.org.uk