Half of new mothers are concerned about their mental health and many are suffering in silence, according to new research released by NCT as it launches its #BeyondBabyBlues campaign supported by celebrities.
The UK’s largest charity for parents also says that almost one in five (18%) callers to their helpline had a mental health issue to discuss and over a third (35%) had not spoken to a healthcare professional about it.
The #BeyondBabyBlues campaign aims to encourage people to talk more openly about maternal mental health, to avoid the mistake of dismissing potentially serious mental health issues in themselves, friends or family and to seek help. NCT is asking people to show their support for the campaign and for each other on social media by sharing pictures of themselves linking hands with someone else, or even with themselves, under the hashtag #BeyondBabyBlues.
Some women are affected by the ‘baby blues’ which can leave mums feeling emotional, irritable and depressed within the first few days or weeks after giving birth. This is thought to be triggered by hormonal, psychological and social changes associated with childbirth, but the feelings of low mood typically reduce after a few days. If symptoms persist or worsen, begin at a later stage, or even in pregnancy, it can be something more serious such as antenatal depression, postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. However there’s a danger this can be dismissed as the ‘baby blues’, therefore many mums don’t seek help.
NCT’s new research¹ found 50% of mothers were still worried about feeling low or depressed when their babies were eight months old and almost three quarters (73%) of fathers were concerned about their partner’s mental health.
Research by the charity last year found a staggering lack of support services for mothers’ mental health. NCT is calling for further funding from central Government for improved services for women’s mental health during pregnancy and early parenthood and better access to support and treatment. The charity is also calling on the Government to name and shame Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who don’t have a maternal mental health strategy in place and hold them to account.
(For more information about the campaign visit: https://www.nct.org.uk/beyond-baby-blues)
Responding to the NCT’s report ‘Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The routine six-week postnatal check, offered to all new mothers after giving birth, is an important opportunity for GPs and new mothers to discuss issues around mental health and wellbeing – and begin to address any resulting concerns. “But it’s incredibly hard for GPs to explore all the physical and psychological factors affecting our patients’ health within the time constraints of the consultation as it stands. We need these checks to be much longer as standard, so that we are able to give the same attention to the new mother as we do to the baby – but this needs more resources for our service, and more GPs.
“Unfortunately, offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments, and our patients are already waiting longer than they should be for routine appointments. We need the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View, including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice, and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, to be implemented as a matter of urgency in order to address this.
“What isn’t helpful is using indiscriminate surveys as a stick with which to beat hard working GPs – particularly as people are more likely to report a negative experience than a positive one - when we are doing our very best for patients under such intense resource and workforce pressures. “It’s actually very encouraging that nearly 80% of new mothers were asked about their emotional wellbeing at the six-week check – but perinatal mental health conditions are incredibly complex, and in many cases we have no choice but to rely on women to disclose their problems.
“We know this takes courage, but new mothers should not put off raising any issue with their GP because they think any adverse feelings they are having after pregnancy are ‘normal’, or because they are worried about the consequences of doing so. We’d like to reassure all our patients that GPs are highly trained to have confidential, non-judgmental conversations about all health issues, including mental wellbeing, and any concerns they share with us will be taken seriously.
“Perinatal mental health is a clinical priority for the College, and we have developed a whole range of resources to support GPs and our teams to deliver the best possible mental health care for our patients during and after pregnancy.”