New and expectant mums should always have support they need - even during lockdown
Mental health conditions related to pregnancy affect up to 20% of women and will present in myriad ways, Angela Richardson writes
Supporting the mental health of new mothers during and after pregnancy is an essential part of perinatal care – it is imperative that we endeavour to provide the best help and support possible during this crisis
The feeling of isolation is a familiar one to me – but it’s something I knew well before the coronavirus lockdown.
To mark the end of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week it is essential we remind women they are not alone in times of need, and as someone who suffered from perinatal depression, I’m acutely aware of the importance of perinatal mental health care for mothers and mothers to be – especially during these times of social distancing and self-isolation.
A new baby is a happy and greatly anticipated event and the arrival of my firstborn nearly eighteen years ago was wonderful time. I felt confident I knew exactly what to do and while there were a couple of complications after she was born, she was an easy baby, sleeping through the night from seven weeks.
Adding to the family was a natural next step, but after three back-to-back miscarriages, including a traumatic second trimester miscarriage in A&E followed by a full-term pregnancy, I was genuinely struggling even before our son was born. Returned back to hospital with the same post-natal complications, getting better both physically and mentally took some time.
I battled on, being an extremely self-reliant and driven person, an immigrant to this country determined to get on, but with very little in the way of established support networks to turn to, one morning I had no option but to pick up the phone and call my GP surgery for the help and support I desperately needed.
Mental health conditions related to pregnancy affect up to 20% of women and will present in myriad ways. The key to minimising the long-term risks to baby and mother is early detection, consistent monitoring, good support and appropriate treatment. Research has proved that early detection and treatment significantly improves recovery rates and reduces long-term negative impacts on child and mother.
This is why perinatal mental health care has been an important and worthy benefactor of the NHS’s Five Year Forward Mental Health plan – and in recent years provisions have improved drastically. Where more than 40% of local providers offered no specialist services at all in 2010, there are now community-based services in all areas of England, which has resulted in 13,000 additional women receiving good quality support and care by 2019.
In order to ensure these services remain open and available for those who need the most support during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has pledged an extra £5m to support mental health services. There is dedicated NHS advice online for pregnant women, new mothers and their friends and family, and if you’re feeling unwell, overwhelmed, lonely or just need some advice, there is a hotline open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
More so than ever, it is now necessary that women reach out if they feel isolated, especially if they find themselves cut off from their loved ones and personal support networks. Having a child can be daunting at the best of times, but social distancing measures can have had a huge impact on mental health, increasing the levels of anxiety and loneliness in many.
The support I received all those years ago was vital to the road of recovering my mental health. Putting a package in place through my third and final full-term pregnancy helped me to avoid the post-partum hospital stay, provided me with a hormone patch to help ease the drop-off in hormones and allowed me to learn how to manage my mental health going forward.
We have come on leaps and bounds in our attitudes towards perinatal mental health. In the past women would often feel a sense of shame if they experienced difficult periods during their pregnancy and the years that followed – often suffering behind closed doors, with their mental well-being a taboo subject matter.
Supporting the mental health of new mothers during and after pregnancy is an essential part of perinatal care – as we now recognise that virtually anyone is at risk of developing a mental disorder.
Therefore, it is imperative that we endeavour to provide the best help and support possible even during lockdown, and whilst the way we access services may be different the availability and quality of care should remain the same.
New and expectant mums should always have support at the times they need it most.
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