Govt must do more to address post-natal depression
Ahead of her oral question today, Labour’s leader in the Lords Jan Royall calls for more action to help new mums dealing with post-natal depression
While most people would agree that having a baby is an exhausting business and giving birth is seldom easy or pain free, they would also think that it's a wonderful experience. The pain is usually swiftly forgotten, to be replaced by an exhaustion that is blunted by the joy of having a baby in your arms. And the baby blues that hit most new mums for a few days soon pass.
But it's not always like that. Every year, over 70,000 new mums have an altogether different experience when they suffer post natal depression. Although checks by GPs or health visitors in the weeks after child birth should pick up on mental health problems, it does not always happen. Many women simply do not seek the help they need, and sometimes hide the symptoms. The stigma that is still sadly attached to mental health problems becomes exacerbated by feelings of guilt and shame.
New mums in this position do not feel they are able to be the good mother that society expects. The novels and magazines they read present expectations of instant love and bonding with their babies, far removed from what they are going through. And as with other mental illnesses, post-natal depression can affect dinner ladies as well as doctors, stay at home mums and workaholics.
So I tabled my Lords oral question for two reasons. First, to raise awareness on how mental illness can blight the first few months of motherhood. Those that suffer need support not to be wracked by shame because of societal judgement, they need treatment. Second, to ask Ministers what the Coalition are doing to improve the situation.
An independent task force on Mental Health in Society, established by Ed Miliband and Chaired by Sir Stephen O'Brien, recently reported that "despite its high prevalence, there is a shortfall in the quality, availability and accessibility of antenatal and postnatal mental health care". Some excellent specialist mother and baby units do exist, and play a critical role in helping new mums recover while also reducing the impact on their children. But in over half the country, there are no such services.
Women end up on adult psychiatric wards, separated from their babies and partners, or not receiving any support at all. And not only is this deeply disturbing from a health and moral perspective, it also has an economic impact. Research by the Centre for Mental Health shows that untreated perinatal mental illness costs our economy £8bn a year.
Clearly there is much more governments can do. Our daughters, sisters and friends who are pregnant or have recently given birth deserve no less. I am proud of the focus that my Party has on mental health, with a commitment to both parity of esteem and a radical improvement in provision should we win in May. Indeed, as Ed Miliband has put it himself: "taking action to improve mental health is essential if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable".