The woman helping depressed moms break their silence
Liesl Hermanus didn’t plan to fall pregnant at university. She struggled with the experience. After giving birth, she went through bouts of unexplained tearfulness. Hermanus couldn’t breastfeed, which provoked extreme anxiety. She felt like a failure. But today, Hermanus understands that as one in three people in South Africa to experience depression or anxiety, mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. Pregnant women in particular are at high risk, which is why she is working to create a safe space for them to speak up and be heard.
As a counsellor with the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP), Hermanus provides support to women and girls who experience emotional distress during and after pregnancy. She works at the Midwife Obstetrics Unit in Hanover Park, an area where poverty, gender-based violence, and gangsterism are widespread. Women exposed to such trauma have a higher chance of developing depression or anxiety. The PMHP works to address the need for psychological help in disadvantaged communities.
“We believe that all South African women should have access to mental health care,” Hermanus says. The PMHP integrates counselling with antenatal care, ensuring women receive psychological support when attending their standard appointments. Hermanus has seen the results of her efforts walking down the street, when former clients and their children approach her with gratitude. Her sessions are not only in service of mothers, but their kids as well. Healthier moms mean happier babies.
Hermanus’ work is in her blood. When she struggled during her pregnancy, she received care and support. Now she is providing her patients with an understanding and compassion they might not otherwise receive. “We want women and girls to know that there is help available,” Hermanus says. “They don’t have to suffer in silence.”