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Redefining Awareness: “Maternal Health and child development in relation to mental health”

Kayla Perumaul
Hi, my name is Kayla Perumaul and I am a 4th year Pharmacy student currently studying at Rhodes University. Being my final year of studies at this fine institution, I have decided to work on a project elective that involves writing a systematic review on a topic that not only sparks my interests but commits to my passion for health promotion. With the guidance and support of my esteemed supervisor Professor Sunitha Srinivas, who has allowed myself and six other colleagues to choose the topic of our own personal interest, I have chosen the topic of “Maternal Health and child development in relation to mental health”.

So, why did I chose this topic?

I chose a topic that educates, questions and most importantly speaks to the many women out there who suffer in silence. Mothers play a critical role in the development of their child, they have a major impact on how the child will experience the external world. However, when this critical figure is not mentally well, this may have an adverse effect on the child’s development. The most common mental condition that affects maternal health to date is prenatal depression, which as a precursor leads to postpartum depression in most cases, both of which have antagonistic effects on the development of a new born child.

This year the World Health Organisation (WHO) has chosen “depression” as the “let’s talk” topic for World Health Day taking place on the 7th of April 2017. Depression, especially prenatal and postpartum depression and its effects on child development are the aspects I will be looking into with regards to my research. Whilst I may not be someone who conforms to societies norms, I still have a holistic approach to aligning myself with the bigger picture that is, the global perspective. However before I go big….let’s start from home.

While South Africa strives to deal with the quadruple burden in health amongst all other coinciding factors, the WHO collectively sums up the statistics that our country delivers, this allows researchers to identify the areas of concern and the areas that are being neglected from a health perspective. From the stats provided, South Africa’s Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are estimated to account for 43% of total deaths. Of this 43% of NCDs 10% is regarded as “Other NCDs”, this is where mental health falls into place. On a global point, depression itself is the now the second leading cause of death amongst the ages of 15-29 year olds.

While the current emphasis is on depression, in South Africa there are various external factors that play a role in alleviating this condition. A major key is the infrastructure surrounding education.  While the buzz is constantly surrounding the matter of how to resolve economic issues and the impact it has on health related problems, one needs to step back and look at the gender gap in relation to literacy and advancements in education. Women in South Africa are currently at the lower end of “higher learning”.  Educated mothers play a significant role in their child’s development.  Education is not only important in this respect but is fundamental to their personal mental health.

So, what is being done and how is it being done? Who are we targeting and why has the progression been limited in addressing this topic?

This is where my research holds value, as my approach is to answer those questions as well as look at the possible solutions that can be implemented to address the topic of maternal health and child development in relation to mental disorders. Through my association with this project so far, I’ve learned that asking the right questions is the first step towards generating an awareness of the issues, and interest in problem-solving.

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