Mental illness in pregnant and postnatal women often goes unrecognised, undiagnosed and untreated, and this can have a devastating impact on the women affected and their families.
This year’s Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week, from 30 April to 6 May, aims to tackle this and raise awareness of how mums, their partners, family and loved ones, can access support and help for perinatal mental health problems.
The theme this year is “support for all”, and partner organisations NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, ²gether NHS Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire County Council have joined forces to highlight where people can turn for support.
Trish Butler is Team Manager of Gloucestershire Perinatal Mental Health Service, which offers a service to women with more severe mental health difficulties. She explained: “Around one in five women need help and support with their emotional wellbeing during pregnancy or in the first year after their baby is born.
“We know women often suffer in silence and are fearful to talk with professionals about mental health difficulties; they may feel they are unusual or bad to feel down. Women in the perinatal period need to feel able to speak up and seek help because of the deep and long lasting impact perinatal mental illness can have on the whole family. If women are seeking help early we can help to prevent poor mental health for the woman and her baby.”
Comments from mums have included: “a fear of being seen as an unfit mother”, “felt guilty and ashamed”, “felt isolated and alone” and “felt they had nowhere to turn”.
Trish added: “The support of family, partner and friends is very important for pregnant women and new mothers. If you know someone who is struggling, encourage them to seek help.
“We want to urge anyone experiencing perinatal mental health issues, or with concerns about their mental health following the birth of a child, to access the help and support that is available. The help which is most appropriate for you will depend on the type of, and severity of, the distress you are experiencing. Women should talk to their GP, midwife or health visitor, who will refer you on if necessary.”
Since the Gloucestershire Perinatal Mental Health Service launched in September 2017, it has helped more than 150 women and offered advice and guidance to a further 200 women and their families.
Mums can also speak to their midwife or health visitor if they have concerns about their emotional wellbeing or mental health during the antenatal and postnatal period.
Dr Michelle Doidge, Clinical Lead for Maternity Services at NHS Gloucestershire CCG, said: “Pregnant women and new mums and dads need their mental health to be as well cared for as their physical health, and improving support for them is one of our key priorities. We want to ensure that women have access to expert advice and information on the risks of pregnancy and childbirth on their mental health.”
Midwife and Clinical Lead for Better Births, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dawn Morrall said: “Experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy can be hard to talk about, but we really want to let women know that there is help and support available for women and their families.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about how you are feeling with your midwife, GP or psychiatrist – they will be happy to discuss your particular issue and your care with you.”
However, people don’t always realise that dads, partners and families can also experience perinatal mental health problems following the birth of a child for similar reasons to mothers.
One dad who has experienced firsthand the importance of having “support for all” is Chris Brierley, Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire. He shared his story to encourage others to seek help and support when needed:
“That moment of seeing my little girl for the first time is one of the best moments of my life. This new person I helped create… Being a dad is the best. I love it and I love watching my child grow and develop.
“But at the same time, it has been one of the hardest things to deal with too, for many different reasons, with many different emotions.
“A loved one said to me a few times to effectively “man up “or “that’s your job”. They don’t mean it harshly, but that’s the stereotypical role. The man has to be strong and not show emotions. Keep calm and carry on!
“It was probably eight months in when I realised I was exhausted. Thankfully I have a great local GP. She told me not to beat myself up and signed me off for two weeks.
“I know some friends have resorted to counselling, anti-depressants, alternative therapies – I think do whatever you need to help you get through it. Don’t beat yourself up, but don’t bottle it up either. Talking helped me.”
Dads and partners of new mums receive information from the Gloucestershire Perinatal Health Team highlighting where they can access support if necessary.
There are a number of opportunities for people to find out more information and share their views, both during and after the week. They are:
- Stand at GRH women’s centre – morning of Tuesday 1 May
- Women who have suffered with mental health difficulties in the antenatal and postnatal period are being invited to attend a Mind and Body “Whose Shoes?” event, held by the Gloucestershire Perinatal Mental Health Team. The event takes place from 9.30am-2pm on Thursday 24 May at Kingsholm Rugby Stadium. If you are interested in attending, please ring 01452 894092.
Help and support is available locally from the following:
- Let’s Talk runs free courses which can help with stress, anxiety and depression. To find out more, call 0800 073 2200 or visit https://www.talk2gether.nhs.uk/
- Speak to your GP or health visitor
- Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.gloshospitals.nhs.uk/our-services/services-we-offer/maternity/your-pregnancy/
- Dads Matter: http://www.dadsmatteruk.org/
- NCT information for dads: https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/postnatal-depression-dads