Mental illness during pregnancy – whether anxiety, depression or more severe psychiatric disorders – can have a significant negative impact on a mother and her baby. Poor psychological health has been associated with low birthweight, premature birth, perinatal and infant deaths, postnatal depression, as well as longer term behavioural and psychological impacts on the child.
Unfortunately despite 10-15 percent of women being affected by mental illness during pregnancy, not all receive the support they need. The top barriers to receiving proper treatment are the lack of recognition by both women themselves and health professionals, the social stigma associated with mental illness (shame), lack of personal resources and the lack of trained clinicians, as well as patchy perinatal services across the UK.
Tommy’s wants all women to be able to talk about how they feel during pregnancy, without the fear of stigma or discrimination. This should be whether they have a previous history, existing mental illness or are well and want to protect their mental wellbeing.
Understandably, we hear from women who may have suffered a miscarriage, premature baby or stillbirth and are anxious about their subsequent pregnancy. The Tommy's midwives are trained to discuss this with women or their families.
What changes do we want to see in mental health provision
Tommy's wants to see:
- women accurately identified in pregnancy when suffering from mental health problems;
- joined-up management of women with mental illness in pregnancy (i.e., between GPs/ midwives/psychiatrists and other relevant healthcare professionals);
- increased awareness among pregnant women about how to maintain mental wellbeing in pregnancy;
- more research into how women should be cared for after a bereavement;
- more research into safe and appropriate medication for pregnant women who suffer from mental health problems.
Report into perinatal mental health
In October 2013 we released a report into perinatal mental health, in conjunction with Netmums, the Institute of Health Visiting and the Royal College of Midwives, and supported by the Boots Family Trust.With up to one in seven women experiencing a perinatal mental health problem, Tommy's and its partners in this report are calling for a range of measures to help women with perinatal mental health problems to get the support they need.
One of the measures we are calling for is use of a Wellbeing Plan that we have devised with our partners. We need to achieve a much greater awareness and openness about mental health issues during pregnancy and after birth. Routine use of a Wellbeing Plan in pregnancy would help new parents to talk openly with health professionals and recognise any symptoms and support needed early on.
You can access our information on mental wellbeing in pregnancy here
“Adjusting to life with a new baby can be difficult and overwhelming. We may set ourselves unachievable goals as a result of the unrealistic way society represents motherhood. This can leave us finding it hard to cope and feeling like we’ve failed.”
Catherine shares her experience of postpartum depression and being part of the BBC documentary ‘Mothers on the Edge’.
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.