Maternal Mental Health Awareness
Shockingly, over 10% of women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the year following the birth of their baby, with suicide a leading cause of death for women during pregnancy and that crucial first year. However, many perinatal mental illnesses are left undiagnosed, with life-threatening and devastating consequences.
Examples of perinatal mental illness include antenatal depression, anxiety, perinatal obsessive compulsive disorder, PTSD, postpartum psychosis and postnatal depression, all of which can range in severity and require different types of intervention. Women may underplay how they are feeling during this time, highlighting the need for a robust mental health screening programme to run alongside the usual physical pregnancy and postnatal health checks.
The effects of undiagnosed perinatal illness are far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting family members, friends and relationships. There are support networks available to support mums who are struggling or who may be in crisis — the Maternal Mental Health Alliance has a bank of resources and agency details available for anyone who is struggling, or who knows someone who is having a difficult time. These support organisations include an NHS initiative called Baby Buddy, which provides information and self-care tools, as well as a confidential text-based Crisis Messenger, which offers 24/7 support for both new and expectant parents. Many areas have drop-in support clinics, which are searchable via area and postcode using this Netmums tool.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with perinatal stress or mental illness, please access support as quickly as possible. Your (or their) GP will be able to refer to some organisations, while others you will be able to contact directly. Mental illness can be isolating and it’s important to keep talking; talk to your family and friends about how you feel, giving them the opportunity to help and support you when you need them to.