By Dr. Sadia Shah

On a cold evening of October 2013, holding my two-month-old girl in my arms, I looked out of the window with tears rolling down my cheeks and an unidentifiable tension pressing on my brain. I felt so lonely and hopeless! My husband was out for work and I was all alone at home with my little daughter, way too stressed and tired! I neither slept well at night nor could I take a nap at daytime because I had so much to do. There were piles of clothes which needed ironing, dishes needed washing, house needed tidying up and cooking as well. She needed me right in front of her 24/7 and I no doubt loved holding her in my arms and the cutest smile on her tiny face, but at the same time I was way too tired and fed up and needed a break - some respite from this tiring routine!

Adapting to this brand-new experience of parenting was very challenging as well as frustrating. The frustration grew with each passing day. I started getting withdrawn, avoiding phone calls or going out, arguing a lot with my husband and crying about tiny things. I developed a feeling of hopelessness inside and thought all the charm of my life had faded away as nothing interested me anymore. I was doing a Master’s in Public Health, but couldn’t focus on what I was reading, so I took a break from my studies.

I started getting withdrawn, avoiding phone calls or going out, arguing a lot with my husband and crying about tiny things. I developed a feeling of hopelessness inside and thought all the charm of my life had faded away... nothing interested me anymore.

When I stayed at my parents for a break, spent good three months with them, and started coming back to normalisation, I realised these were not only ‘baby blues’ but ‘postnatal depression’. The social support of my parents and siblings helped a lot in my recovery.

I am a qualified medical doctor from Pakistan, living in the UK, but I couldn’t realise in time about my postnatal depression. This made me ponder: being a medic, if I could miss this very common issue, any new mother can miss it and keep suffering hopelessly! So, when I was asked to choose a topic for my final master’s dissertation, I chose postnatal depression in Pakistan. I was surprised that although 17.3% of mothers were suffering from postnatal depression, the majority of the women didn’t know about it and there was no concept of seeking help for it. My research results can be seen here.

Being a medic, if I could miss this very common issue, any new mother can miss it and keep suffering hopelessly

After completing my masters, out of curiosity, I started reading articles on postnatal depression in Pakistani mothers living in the UK and met Professor Nusrat Husain, the Director of Global Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry, who was working on projects addressing maternal mental health issues. I started working with him and joined his project called ROSHNI (Roshni is an Urdu word, it means ‘Light’) and now have started working on SASHI (South Asia Self-Harm Initiative). When I come across depressed mothers, I can relate to their stories a lot! ROSHNI is a multi-centre trial of psychological intervention that identifies postnatal depression in British South Asian mothers, and compares the routine treatment for depression with a psychological intervention called PHP (Positive Health Programme). While SASHI is a project that helps to find effective responses to self-harm and suicide in South Asia by building research infrastructure and expertise in India and Pakistan, to build a body of evidence in order to facilitate the development of culturally relevant and effective interventions. 

Although 17.3% of mothers [in Pakistan] were suffering from postnatal depression, the majority of the women didn’t know about it and there was no concept of seeking help for it.

I am very glad to be part of Global Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry Research Group, which is supporting hundreds of South Asian mothers across the UK with mental health issues, particularly postnatal depression, and providing them with culturally relevant support according to their needs, which I always longed for.

Today my daughter is four years old, and I have another eight-month-old daughter too, but I’m happy, relaxed, confident and motivated. I can certainly attest to an unseen strength that comes to me every time I reach out and lift those suffering from mental distress. I have learned and developed strength from my own experience and my profession, and I’m grateful to ROSHNI & SASHI for brightening up depressed minds with positivity!


Learn more about perinatal mental health difficulties