We're urging new and expectant mums who are struggling with their mental health to reach out and ask for professional support.
It comes as new data from NHS England shows one in six NHS Trusts are still struggling to report if they are screening every pregnant woman for mental health issues at their 10-week antenatal booking appointment in line with clinical guidelines. The antenatal booking appointment should occur by week 10 of pregnancy and is a critical opportunity to identify women who may need professional mental health support during and following pregnancy.
An estimated one in five new and expectant mums develop perinatal mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. Left untreated, these illnesses can have a devastating impact on the lives of the woman, their newborn child and other family members. Mental illness is the leading cause of maternal death in the first year after birth.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has recommended that all pregnant women are asked about their mental health history, family history of mental illness and risk factors for mental illness at the 10-week antenatal booking appointment since 2014. While NHS Trusts report on whether they are following the guidelines, this data has never been published. The latest figures from NHS England show 20 out of 122 NHS Trusts providing antenatal services are still not fully reporting whether they are screening every pregnant woman for mental health issues in line with the clinical guidelines.
Marking Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on NHS England to urgently publish data showing if NHS Trusts are screening every pregnant woman for mental health issues at their 10-week antenatal booking appointment.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:
“Every pregnant woman should be screened for mental health issues at their antenatal booking appointment. More than eight years after routine screening was first recommended, we still don’t know if NHS Trusts are following the guidelines, and there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest many women are missing out. Suicide and substance abuse are leading causes of maternal death in the first year following birth so it’s vital that women experiencing mental illness receive timely specialist support. We’re calling on NHS England to urgently publish data showing if NHS Trusts are screening pregnant women for mental health issues.
“In my clinic, I treat women from a range of backgrounds who develop serious mental illness while pregnant or after giving birth. Many of these women suffer in silence for too long. They are often embarrassed to ask for help, fearing people will view them as weak or unfit to be a mother. Some didn’t realise they were very unwell while others didn’t know how to get help. If you experience mental health issues during or following pregnancy, please don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Speak to your GP or your midwife who can offer advice and, if appropriate, refer you to specialist mental health teams.”
Mum of two Hayley, who lives in Dorset and experienced debilitating anxiety after giving birth to her second child in late 2021, said:
“I became very unwell very quickly. My newborn son spent two nights in hospital after a home birth. I was extremely worried about his health to the point where I started to spiral. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was hearing voices and was starting to have terrible thoughts. Days after giving birth, I was admitted to a specialist mother and baby unit. I spent one month in the unit and was so much better when I came home. I’m fully recovered now and grateful to the specialist team who I believe saved my life.”