New data shows the impact of Covid and regional variation in care on women’s mental health during pregnancy and early motherhood.
Thousands of women could not get vital help with their mental health during pregnancy or right after giving birth because of the Covid pandemic and regional variation in care, according to new analysis published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists [RCP].
The RCP says that in 2020/21 47,000 women were expected to access perinatal mental health services, but in the most recent data for the 2020 calendar year only 31,261 managed to get help with problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts in pregnancy and early motherhood.
This was at a time when women, particularly mums, faced additional mental health pressures due to childcare and homeschooling issues during the pandemic.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who works in perinatal mental health, said: “Many women can develop mental health problems for the first time during pregnancy and after birth or are at risk of pre-existing illnesses made worse if they don’t get the right support in time.
“Staff in perinatal mental healthcare have made every effort to support women in these extremely challenging times, but services have been under unprecedented strain. Funding for mental health facilities is long overdue, but is more urgent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Gaps in local funding in certain areas in England should be urgently addressed so that the same standard of care is available to all women, no matter where they live.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for funding for perinatal mental health facilities in the next spending review. Psychiatrists are also calling on local health bosses in certain areas to address longstanding funding issues and put an end to the postcode lottery in maternal mental health.
The RCP says perinatal mental health support was broadly on track before the pandemic. In 2019/20, 30,625 women accessed perinatal mental health services, against the expectation of 32,000 outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan. However, disruptions to care combined with the stresses of the pandemic exacerbated poor mental health in expectant and new mothers and made it harder to get diagnosis and treatment.
One mum who developed depression during her first pregnancy and got treatment to recover experienced more problems during Covid with her second. Leanne Howlett said: “Covid hit when my daughter was five months old. I didn’t have support with childcare as neither nursery nor family support were available at the time. Everything I had to help me as a new mum pre-pandemic I couldn’t lean on anymore.
“I struggled with the concept that there was no end in sight. Struggled to find any positives in anything.
“Having been through this before, I knew I had to get help this time around. But there are so many parents out there who feel that they’re not good enough if they ask for mental health support during what’s meant to be the happiest time of their lives.
“It’s funny how we expect help for our physical health without thinking about it, but not for a mental illness. We need to change that culture and make sure that services are there to support everyone who needs help before they reach crisis.”
Leanne has set up By Your Side, a charity in Warwick, to raise awareness of perinatal mental health and gave up her career as a solicitor to become a mental health nurse so that she can help women going through the same. To find out more search @ByYourSidePerinatal on Facebook or @ByYourSideForum on twitter. Alternatively email: firstname.lastname@example.org.