Some welcome if more than a little overdue health news this week, as the government announced a much needed expansion in specialist mental health services for pregnant and new mothers. Current figures suggest only about a quarter of the 40,000 women experiencing mental health issues related to their pregnancy and childbirth each year actually get access to the proper help and support they need to treat conditions like postnatal depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But why has this been the case?
It all boils down to a wider societal problem with mental health: we don’t talk about it. Thousands of new mums are suffering in silence every year because they fear to tell anyone that they are struggling now their much wanted baby has arrived. They are afraid to discuss their feelings with their GP, midwife or health visitor in case they are considered ‘crazy’ or don’t think they would be able to help. And sadly, all too often the right help isn’t there anyway.
Perinatal mental health services have often been labelled as a postcode lottery, with some areas of the country being very well served where a full specialist service is commissioned, including inpatient mother and baby units for the most severe cases, and easy access to counselling for the majority of women who may just need to talk to someone. Unfortunately, in areas where there is no commissioned service, women can wait months to access counselling or have to travel hundreds of miles away from family for a suitable inpatient bed.
My lovely blogging friend Leigh of Headspace Perspective tragically lost her baby son Hugo nearly two years ago now when she developed the life-threatening HELLP syndrome and he had to be delivered at 24 weeks. Hugo lived for 35 days. You can only imagine what she has been through but she is only now starting the bereavement therapy she needs to help her live with her grief and trauma long term. After two years! No-one with a physical injury would be expected to wait so long for rehabilitation.
Mental health has always been the poor relation to physical health when it comes to funding priorities but the two are so inextricably linked this can no longer be the case.
Shockingly, suicide is the second highest cause of maternal death in the UK after sepsis (caused by severe infection). There are women who need help NOW. This week’s pledge to offer a universal specialist service by 2020 is a step in the right direction, but it can’t come quickly enough.