Is there a lack of mental health support for pregnant women?

Emily Whitton
By Emily Whitton,
updated on May 4, 2023

Mother and baby in bed.

A report finds that the lives of many pregnant people are being put at risk due to poor mental health support. We share some of the resources that can support you through your journey

Pregnancy, whilst an incredibly exciting time for many expectant parents, can also come with a whole host of challenges. Not only are the physical effects often felt, but changing hormones, coupled with possible anxiety, can have an impact on the mental health of many pregnant people, too.

According to the NHS, one in five women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth. If they’re not addressed quickly, these problems can escalate into something more serious — which is why it’s so important for expectant women to receive adequate mental health support. What’s more, MBRRACE-UK notes that deaths due to maternal mental health problems are on the rise, with suicide being the leading cause of death in the first year following birth.

Worryingly, a report by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) reveals that many pregnant women’s lives are being put at risk due to discrepancies in mental health services across the UK. In Northern Ireland, two of its five health and social care boards have no specialist team to support mothers dealing with mental health difficulties. In Wales, none of their services met the standard of quality set out by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

MMHA found that many of these specialist services are not receiving appropriate funding or fail to meet the quality standard of care. This is largely due to insufficiently resourced teams, understaffing and poor allocation of funds.

With only 16% of these specialist perinatal services meeting the minimum standard of care in England, it’s time that more commitments are made to support pregnant people and their babies through this huge adjustment in life.

The identification of mental health difficulties should be as important as identifying physical needs of new and expecting mothers during this time.

Sophie Harris, Maternal mental health: What support is available?

The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns that many expectant mums are suffering in silence for “too long” with mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. They’re urging people to seek support from a GP or midwife but with substandard services, it can be hard for women to know where to turn to.

This week marks Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, designed to change attitudes around maternal mental health, raise awareness and help people access the support they need to recover. This year’s theme is ‘Together in a changing world’. You can join the conversion by using #MMHAW23, #TogetherInAChangingWorld and #maternalMHmatters.

In this video, pregnancy and postpartum psychotherapist, Sophie Harris, explains what maternal mental health is and where you can find support.

Where can I find support?

The challenges faced by many specialist perinatal services can leave people waiting for a long time. Thankfully, there are many incredibly useful resources dedicated to supporting pregnant women and their babies during and beyond pregnancy that you can turn to for further help. Some examples include:

  • The PANDAS Foundation — PANDAS are a community that offers peer-to-peer support for mothers, their families and those around them. You can call them using their free helpline or contact them via email, WhatsApp, or their social media groups.
  • Birth Trauma Association — If you’re looking for support following a traumatic birth, the Birth Trauma Association has a team of supporters who have a shared experience of birth trauma and are going through recovery.
  • The Peanut App connects women from all life stages, from fertility to pregnancy and motherhood to menopause.
  • Mums Aid reaches women who wouldn’t usually access counselling and supports couples with the transition to parenthood.
  • Action on Postpartum Psychosis — A small number of women experience postpartum psychosis. APP is a national charity for women and families who have been affected by it.
  • Counselling/therapy — If you’d like to discuss how you’re feeling with a professional in a safe and supported space, you can find a counsellor or therapist online or near you on Happiful.

You can read the full article in The Guardian.

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