16,389 new and expectant mothers miss out on vital mental health support

Press release
26 April 2022

Thousands of new and expectant mothers with serious mental illness are missing out on vital specialist support, according to new research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Between January and December, just 40,411 new and expectant mothers had contact with perinatal mental health services – far short of the NHS target to treat at least 57,000 women this financial year. The shortfall means thousands of women with serious conditions including those with severe anxiety, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis are missing out on treatment at a critical time for both them and their newborn infant. 

Perinatal services have expanded considerably in recent years, with specialist services treating more women with perinatal mental health problems than ever before. However, this new analysis found the NHS is struggling to keep up with growing demand for specialist support post-pandemic – services in England received 93,494 referrals last year alone.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for a COVID-19 recovery plan for mental health, with additional funding to support services facing unprecedented demand and action on workforce shortages. The College is calling on the Government to fund more psychiatrists and more community facilities to make it easier for women across the country to access specialist support close to where they live.

Dr Jo Black, Chair of the Perinatal Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Psychiatrists working on the frontline are seeing the devastating impact of new mothers with serious mental health problems waiting far too long for specialist mental health treatment. Many others are not being seen by specialist teams at all, putting women, their newborn babies and other family members at risk of long-term mental health problems later on. We need to accelerate the expansion of perinatal mental health services to ensure every new mother who requires support for serious mental health problems can get timely help and support.”

An estimated one in five women experience anxiety, depression and other common mental health conditions during and following pregnancy. One in 14 women develop more serious conditions requiring specialist support including severe anxiety, severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. If left untreated, these can have significant and long-term impacts on women, their children and their immediate family.

The NHS Digital data shows most women (86,604) referred to specialist mental health teams last year were referred within 12 months following pregnancy. Referral rates were highest for younger women. Teenagers aged 16 to 19 years were 3.25 times more likely to be referred to perinatal mental health services than those over the age of 30. Women aged 20 to 24 years were twice as likely to referred for treatment than those over 30.

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