Perinatal mental health problems (that is, mental ill-health among women during pregnancy or after birth) affect about one in five mothers. Such difficulties can cause great distress to them and their families and may increase the risk of babies developing mental health difficulties later in life.

The current context

We’re pleased that mothers’ mental health has generated public interest and government action in recent years, especially following our report with the LSE in 2015 on the costs of perinatal mental health problems and our analysis of the role of GPs in perinatal care. In 2016, we welcomed the pledge in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health that 30,000 more women would have access each year to specialist perinatal mental health care (see the report which recommended such measures). We have also seen an increase in coverage of specialist perinatal mental health services in England, with more to come – but some parts of the UK still have no access to this support.

What needs to change?

There is clearly still much to be done to drive change in maternal mental health. We want to see fewer women struggling during the perinatal period, and more timely and effective support when it’s needed. Too many women are silenced by stigma or their health professionals don’t recognise that they need help. See our blog from Sadia who shares her story about struggling as a new mum, or the piece from our Chief Executive Sarah about experiencing postnatal depression.

“Mothers don’t want to say they’re not coping, [they] see it as a safeguarding issue and a failure on their part to say they’re not coping…”

“1 in 10 mums experience postnatal depression and there’s not enough awareness amongst mothers. So to discuss the importance of speaking to a GP or health visitor if you’re not doing ok, that problems do happen and you’re not alone, speak to someone…”

How could support be improved?

The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) found that up to half of women experiencing mental health difficulties during pregnancy and in the year after did not have their needs recognised by health professionals. The NCT commissioned us to explore the impact of extending the current 6-week check up for babies to include a consultation about the wellbeing of the mother. We found that resourcing GPs to offer a ten-minute appointment about the mother’s health could help to identify more women experiencing mental health difficulties after the birth of their child, and ensure that they receive timely, effective support.

“I tell mothers they’re not a failure, nothing prepares you for being a parent and it’s really hard. It’s incredibly common to go through these difficulties…”

 

Last updated 05/08/2019