A chronic lack of awareness of the symptoms of postnatal depression is leading to as many as 35,000 women suffering in silence from the condition each year with devastating effects on their families, according to a new report by the 4Children charity.
New figures, published today, show that half of women suffering from postnatal depression do not seek any professional treatment. Thousands more are not getting their postnatal depression treated quickly or effectively enough because of serious shortcomings in the system of screening and referral, an over-reliance on the use of antidepressants and because of a sense of stigma attached to admitting to experiencing the symptoms, says 4Children.
Its report highlights the toll that untreated maternal depression has on families leading to relationship difficulties and breakdown, pressure on older siblings to step in to look after babies and children living with the long-term consequences of poor early bonding.
The charity says many healthcare professionals – including GPs – need to do more to diagnose postnatal depression early and ensure mothers are being provided with appropriate and timely treatment.
4Children says one in 10 women suffer from the condition. However, the report reveals 49% of women it surveyed who had postnatal depression had not sought professional help.
Of these women:
– almost a third (29%) did not realise they were suffering from postnatal depression;
– 60% did not believe their symptoms were serious enough to warrant treatment;
– and 33% said they were too scared to tell anyone because they were afraid of what might happen to themselves or their child.
The survey shows:
– 65% want more information on support groups
– 52% want information on counselling and other talking therapies
– 46% are not satisfied with the information they received about the symptoms of postnatal depression.
Despite NICE guidelines for the effective and timely treatment of postnatal depression which stipulates that ‘talking therapy’ should be offered to women with a mild or moderate diagnosis, the report shows that this is not the reality for many women:
– 70% of survey respondents were prescribed antidepressants by their GP compared with 41% referred to talking therapies that are more likely to bring about long term solutions.
The report shows the majority of Primary Care Trusts do not collect information on the prevalence, severity or treatment of postnatal depression at a local level (two Trusts report that only one woman had been diagnosed with postnatal depression within the last year). The Department of Health does not hold national data on the prevalence or treatment of postnatal depression. 4Children says there is a postcode lottery for inpatient care of mothers suffering from severe depression (an under-provision of Mother and Baby Units in Cumbria, East Anglia, Devon and Cornwall and large parts of Wales and Scotland – and none at all in Northern Ireland).
Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children, said:“Postnatal depression is a problem that with the right help, early on, can be treated successfully avoiding long-term impact on the rest of the family. However, many families are suffering the consequences of postnatal depression in silence, and even when they do seek help they all too often encounter a wall of indifference and a lack of empathy from medical professionals with an overreliance on antidepressants for treatment.
“The best ways to treat maternal depression are set out clearly in the NICE guidelines, but all too often there is a shocking lack of awareness. So many women have to rely on luck to come across a sympathetic GP or health visitor who will lead them to the right course of treatment. This report calls for an end to the neglect of this destructive and prevalent illness to ensure that every mother is guaranteed the practical and emotional support she needs to avoid her unnecessary suffering and that of her family.”