Maternal mental health - it matters

Today the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) have shown us the woeful provision of care for women who experience mental health problems during pregnancy and in the first year after the birth of their baby.

By Beckie Lang

Today the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), of which Tommy's is a member, has shown us the woeful provision of care for women who experience mental health problems during pregnancy and in the first year after the birth of their baby. Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death among new mums in the UK. It seems astonishing that women’s mental health isn’t given equal care and attention to their physical health during and after pregnancy.

The MMHA 'Everyone's Business' campaign has shown that over 40% of English health boards don’t provide pre- and post-natal mental health care. Just 30 of the 237 clinical commissioning (CCG) areas in England and health board areas in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland offer what the alliance says is the highest level of provision. These are all in England, with the excpetion of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in Scotland.

Women get regular physical check-ups but mental health is left at the wayside

As many of you will know, when you are expecting a baby your midwife will give you regular physical check-ups, from blood pressure checks and urine tests to blood tests and scans. Any concerns, and you’ll be taken to a specialist. However, more often than not, specialist care for mental health doesn’t exist. Last October, research into mental health by Tommy’s,Netmums, the Royal College of Midwives and the Institute of Health Visiting showed that women are worried about discussing mental health with their midwife for fear of the consequences; and that midwives are worried that if a mum does need extra support, they have nowhere to refer them on to.

Our survey showed that only 25% of midwives had a specialist service in their area designed to support women with depression or anxiety in pregnancy.

Depression and anxiety are very common in pregnancy

We know that at least one in ten women experience mental health problems in pregnancy, and our survey suggests that many will be going through this for the first time. This makes depression and anxiety a very common pregnancy health problem – and it can be a serious one, too. Women with pre-natal depression and anxiety who aren’t supported properly are likely to develop post-natal depression, and both these conditions can have consequences for them and their baby such as trouble bonding.

As a member of the MMHA, Tommy’s is keen to see women and their families supported throughout pregnancy and into parenthood both physically and emotionally. This year I will be working with women with direct experience of perinatal mental health problems to increase the  information and advice we offer.

Appreciating that things can go wrong with mental health as well as physical health in pregnancy and parenthood can help women and their loved ones identify symptoms and seek help early on. 

We want women to be able to speak up without fear about mental health issues

However in encouraging women to speak up without fear we need to be sure that:

  • Women will be heard by their midwife, health visitor and GP. Tommy’s is working with the MMHA to look at the training of specialist mental health midwives  in areas of the UK lacking in such resource.
  • Local services are provided to support women with mild, moderate and severe mental health needs. 

At the moment, women suffer in silence or else discover that there are few places to turn to for help. We want women to feel empowered, secure and given the chance to talk about their feelings without judgement – and then for the care to be there. That’s why we are supporting the ‘Everyone’s Business’ campaign, so that women’s minds are treated as being as important as their bodies on the road to parenthood.

Read more about Tommy's work and campaigns on mental health in pregnancy.