By Jane Brewin
Depression and mental health problems, such as anxiety, affect up to 20% of all pregnant women. Left untreated, these conditions can have lasting effects on the emotional and physical health of both mother and baby. Nonetheless, the information and support provided to pregnant women on physical wellbeing far outweighs that offered on mental wellbeing. Diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems is less likely to happen during pregnancy than any other time.
Today the Maternity Mental Health Alliance, of which Tommy's is a member, is launching a new campaign called #MumTalk to shine a light on maternal mental illness in the UK and to reduce stigma around this issue. The public are being encouraged to share stories to show other women that they are not alone.
Without understanding, support, and treatment these mental illnesses have a devastating impact on the women affected and on their partners and families. But with treatment, women do get better. However, the resources and services that do exist in this area are typically provided by mental health charities. They tend to reach women with an existing mental illness diagnosis or those identified by midwives as having potential problems. Overall, there is very little that works in a preventative way, or is aimed at women at the less severe end of the spectrum of mental and emotional wellbeing.
As a part of our commitment to improving the health of mothers and babies, Tommy's provides information for pregnant women that aims to improve their health and that of their babies. We have extended this to include comprehensive information on mental health. As well as developing information, resources and case studies, we have integrated it and signposting to it from our general pregnancy information so that women who have no previous experience of mental health problems are not excluded. We have put mental health on parity with physical health.
"I had everything I wanted but I was upset and angry all the time"
We want to educate and support women on mental health issues and wellbeing during pregnancy. We hope that this will enable women to recognise when there is a problem and empower them to seek help by talking to their midwife, GP or health visitor about it.
"I should have been the happiest person in the world but instead I was feeling so sad."
At the same time, we want midwives, health visitors and GPs to be more aware of emotional wellbeing, and to open up conversations about emotional symptoms as well as physical during pregnancy. We’ve worked with several other organisations to develop the Wellbeing Plan, which has been endorsed by RCGP and NICE, to help women begin discussions about emotional health during and after pregnancy.
Talking openly about mental wellbeing is the first step towards reducing the stigma around it. We want all pregnant women to be aware of the steps they can take to keep themselves well during pregnancy, both mentally and physically.
"That was all I needed, to get it out, to speak to someone, feel that I wasn't completely alone."
We also developed an emotive film to encourage women to ask for help if they feel low more than they feel happy.
I had postnatal depression after my first baby was born, but I chose to deal with it myself and didn’t ask for help. I was stubborn and assumed I’d be OK.
I have always been a worrier. But after I had a miscarriage and my Dad, Nan and Grandad passed away, I started having panic attacks and was diagnosed with anxiety.
Mark and I have two girls. We also had a son, Alexander, but he was stillborn at 36 weeks.
People were just completely bemused if I said, ‘I don’t really like being pregnant.’