Four out of five women don’t talk about perinatal mental health problems

A new report on perinatal mental health has revealed significant levels of anxiety and depression in new mothers facing pressure to succeed as parents.

The report, published by the pregnancy research group Tommy’s, working with Netmums, the Institute of Health Visiting and the Royal College of Midwives and funded by the Boots Family Trust, shows data taken from a study of 1,500 women experiencing perinatal mental health problems and looks at the reasons behind it and the support sought.

Over 20% of the women surveyed had experienced suicidal thoughts, with over 40% not wanting to leave the house, and 30% stating that their symptoms persisted for at least 18 months. Despite the severity of their symptoms, the results show that many new mothers found it difficult to ask for or access the right levels of support for their mental health. 75% had not been able to share the extent of their issues with a health professional and 40% had received no treatment at all.

When asked about the reasons behind their symptoms, the most common answers given were focused on a “pressure to do things right” and a lack of appropriate support. Relatively few mothers pinned the causes on hormonal changes or a predisposition to depression.

It was also revealed that four out of five women (82%) had not been able to fully reveal their feelings to a health professional. Many women felt too embarrassed to raise the issue, or kept quiet for fear of having their baby taken away, and nearly a third (31%) stated a lack of continuity in care as the reason they had not been able to raise the issue.

2,000 health professionals also surveyed for the study backed up this concern, warning that a lack of continuity in care made it difficult for them to build up the trusting relationships that would allow mothers to raise mental health concerns without fear or embarrassment. Midwives and health visitors alike said that a combination of rushed appointments and the inability to see the same woman throughout her care were of particular concern.

Health professionals had said that the Whooley questionnaire recommended by current NICE guidelines was not sufficient for picking up the complexity of many symptoms. Following the study, Tommy’s are calling for three key measures:

  1. An agreed method of spotting the signs of mental health problems.
  2. A restructuring of care to ensure continuity
  3. A wellbeing plan to encourage more open discussion of mental health throughout pregnancy and after birth. A draft wellbeing plan can be downloaded from the Tommy’s website.

One in seven women currently experience perinatal mental health problems.

Read the full report (Tommy’s).

Read our recent article about supporting parents with bipolar disorder.