Treatment and support for mental health

There are lots of things you can try if you you need help and support with your emotional health before, during and after pregnancy.

The main treatments for mental health problem are self-help, talking therapies and medication.

What you are offered will depend partly on what your symptoms are, how severe they are, and what’s available locally.

Many pregnant women and new mums feel ashamed or guilty about feeling low because they think they should be really happy now. But the reality is that mental health problems can affect anyone at any time. How you feel does not mean you are a bad parent.

Don’t hide your feelings or suffer in silence. You are not alone. Tell you partner, family or friends how you feel, as well as your GP and midwife. They will help you access the support you need.

Everyone is different, so treatments that may work for some people may not work for others. Your healthcare professional will give you information about the pros and cons of different treatments and help you decide what’s best for you.

Talking treatments (psychological therapies)

Talking treatments are psychological therapies where you talk about your feelings with a trained therapist. This may be one-to-one, in a group, over the phone, with your family or with your partner,

You may be offered:

  •  Listening visits from a trained health visitor, giving support without telling you what to do.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a therapy that focuses on changing negative patterns of thinking.
  • Counselling, where a counsellor helps with setting goals and problem-solving.

“At first, I thought the CBT would be a load of rubbish, but I’d definitely recommend it. It helped me get rid of bad thoughts and instead concentrate on reality.” 

Kate, mum of one

Community support

Support groups

These bring people with a specific mental health problem together to share their experiences and support each other.

Peer support

In some places you can be matched up with a volunteer who has had the same mental health problem, to support you.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

The aim of CBT is to change the way you think and behave so you can manage any problems in a more positive way. Unlike other talking treatments, CBT focuses on the problems you have now and not those you’ve had in the past. It helps you find practical ways to improve your emotional health every day.

CBT can be carried out in different ways, including:

  • individual therapy – one-to-one sessions with a therapist
  • group therapy – with others who wish to tackle a similar problem
  • a self-help book – where you carry out exercises from a book with support from a therapist from your local talking therapy service
  • a computer program – known as computerised CBT (CCBT)

Typically, your therapist will help you:

  • talk about your problems, your feelings towards them and what you do about them
  • think about whether these thoughts and actions are helpful, and what effect they have on you
  • think about how to change any unhelpful thoughts and actions
  • practise these changes in daily life.

A course typically involves around 5 to 20 sessions, which last about an hour each.

CBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health problems in pregnancy including:

CBT is available on the NHS. Speak to your midwife or GP for more information. You may be able to refer yourself in some areas.

Guided self-help

Guided self-help is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) based approach for people with anxiety, depression or stress. It is an evidence-based, problem-focused method of changing the way you think, feel and behave. Guided self-help sessions are held with a specially trained therapist face-to-face or over the phone, in sessions that are generally spread across several weeks.

The therapist will

  • listen and talk with you about your concerns
  • support you to understand the issues you have and how they affect
  • give you a range of self-help materials and guide you in how to use these
  • help you to make positive and practical changes.

Medication 

Many women take medication for their mental health while they’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The type of medication you are offered will depend on:

  • what mental health condition  you have
  • how your condition affects you
  • how quickly you’ve become unwell if you’ve stopped taking medication
  • what medications have helped you
  • if any medications have caused side effects. 

Some types of medication for mental health problems have risks for your baby if you take them when you are pregnant or when you are breastfeeding. Your doctor should give you all the information you need to decide about what treatment is best for you.

To help you decide the best thing to do, your doctor will talk to you about:

  • the pros and cons of taking medication
  • the pros and cons of a different treatment option, such as guided self-help or a talking treatments
  • what might happen if you don’t have any treatment.

Find out more about antidepressant medications and their side effects (NICE guidance)

Find out more about antipsychotic medications and their side effects (NICE guidance)

Medication and breastfeeding

“The doctor prescribed antidepressants, which have worked. I feel a lot less stressed and everything feels a lot less intense. I feel like I can deal with things a bit more head on. I feel fine now.”

Amy, mum of one

Talk to your midwife, mental health specialist or GP if you want to breastfeed and are taking medications for your mental health.

Most medicines can be taken while you’re breastfeeding without harming your baby.

Find out more about medication and breastfeeding

Find support groups and more resources for specific conditions

Sources

NICE (2018). Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg192

NHS Choices Talking therapies explained https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/types-of-therapy/ (Page last reviewed: 06/01/2016. Next review due: 06/12/2018

NHS Choices Cognitive behavioural therapy https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/ (Page last reviewed: 15/07/2016. Next review due: 15/07/2019)

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Last reviewed on October 18th, 2018. Next review date October 18th, 2021.

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