The NHS has launched a new maternal mental health programme to reach the 30,000 new or expectant mums who experience serious mental ill health issues but are not currently receiving the care they need.
As many as one in five women experience mental ill health during pregnancy or in the year after birth, and suicide is the second leading cause of maternal death, after cardiovascular disease.
Abi Wood, head of campaigns at the NCT, told The Huffington Post UK she is disappointed by the current level of care.
“It’s totally unacceptable that there is such a lack of support for new mothers with mental health problems and we are pleased to see NHS England is delivering on its commitment to make funds available to provide better services,” she said.
“As well as providing specialist support services, GPs, midwives and health visitors need to be trained to recognise vulnerable new mums and give them the help they need,” added Wood.
“Early intervention could prevent devastating problems later down the line.”
Currently more than 40% of areas provide no service for women with severe or complex conditions and fewer than 15% of areas provide services to levels recommended in national guidelines.
As a first step to close this gap NHS England is launching a £5m Perinatal Community Services Development Fund for specialist community services, which provide care and support to women with a mental illness in pregnancy or in the first year after birth.
The services will also respond to crises, offer after care following an inpatient stay in a mother and baby unit, and will aim to decrease risks to mothers and babies.
Overall, £365m has been allocated for specialist perinatal mental health services over the next five years, and NHS England’s aim is for 30,000 more women to be able to access care and treatment each year, by 2021.
Tommy’s Midwife, Kate Pinney, offered the following advice for pregnant women and new mums:
“Although it’s normal to have periods of feeling worried or low when you’re pregnant or after birth, some women have feelings that don’t go away and this can be a sign of something more serious.
“It’s not uncommon for pregnant women and new mothers to suffer from depression or anxiety and sometimes from other mental health problems.”
“If you aren’t happy with how the midwife, health visitor or doctor responds to what you tell them, don’t be afraid to ask to see a different health professional,” added Pinney.
“Trust yourself – you are the best judge of whether your feelings are normal for you. If you don’t feel right, or if you have some of the signs of depression and they last for more than two weeks, push for help if necessary.
“If you feel that your midwife is not listening to you, you can ask to see another member of the team. If you are still worried that no one is listening to your concerns, contact the day assessment unit (DAU) within the maternity unit or alternatively seek advice by contacting a supervisor of midwives (SoM) through your maternity unit. The SoM is available 24 hours a day.”
Tommy’s midwives also often refer women to the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, – you can self-refer, so if you feel your GP isn’t listening then you can by-pass the GP. this way.
There’s lots of information about how pregnant women and new parents can get the support they need on the NCT and Tommy’s websites.