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'Failure' fear poses depression risk for new mothers

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New mothers feel under pressure to get everything right which is contributing to rates of depression while midwives admit to being too busy, a new report has found.

A range of worries - including over money and getting practical help with childcare - cause women to feel very low, according to a poll of 1,500 women who suffered from depression either in pregnancy or after birth.

Concerns over work and money made 12% feel they could not cope, while 22% felt pressure to “do things right” and 21% suffered due to a lack of practical and emotional support.

This compared with 12% who felt their mental health had been impacted by their hormones and 15% who believed they had a pre-disposition to depression.

As a result of their illness, 43% of mothers did not want to leave the house, 22% had suicidal thoughts and 30% said symptoms lasted more than 18 months.

The poll, from organisations including Netmums, the baby charity Tommy’s and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), forms part of a report into mental health among pregnant women and those who have given birth.

It found three-quarters did not feel they could tell a health worker about their depression and 40% did not receive any treatment.

Some 34% did not disclose for fear that they would have their baby taken away from them and a further 31% were put off because they saw different midwifes or health visitors at their appointments.

The report also surveyed 2,000 health professionals. It found fewer than half (46%) of community midwives saw the same woman throughout her care and 44% said there was not enough time to discuss mental health in appointments.

Their concerns were echoed by health visitors, with only 43% seeing the same woman throughout her care.

Health workers also said the current guidance on asking about mental health - two simple questions - was not sufficient to pick up on many mental health symptoms.

The questions ask women if they feel sad or have lost interest in things.

Sally Russell, co-founder of Netmums, said: “Depression during or post pregnancy can be dreadful for the mother - but the condition affects the whole family as well.

“The illness robs families of what should be one of the happiest times of their lives as they welcome a new arrival.

“It’s clear to see that as society changes with longer working hours, fewer families living close together and the relentless media pressure for new mums to look, act and feel perfect, that there is a real danger incidences of this illness could be on the increase.”

Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy’s, said: “Pregnancy and motherhood are life-changing experiences and on top of the physical changes and new responsibilities, many women are scared of doing the ‘wrong’ thing or fear they will ‘fail’ as a mum.

“Everyone expects pregnancy to be a happy time, which makes it even harder for women to open up when they’re feeling under pressure, anxious or depressed.

“Mental health problems in pregnancy can have consequences for both mother and baby, and we need to create both a society and a health care system where women can be open about their feelings, and get the support and treatment they need.”

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “The government have publicly pledged to do more to help women with mental health difficulties in pregnancy and after birth.

“The survey also highlights the need to improve professionals’ knowledge and willingness to help and support women to access appropriate help.

“We recognise that this is often very difficult as midwives face pressure on their time due to the demands on the maternity services caused by a rising birth rate, more complex births and a shortage of midwives.”

The report was also produced with the Institute of Health Visiting and the Boots Family Trust, which funded the work.

The group has now launched a wellbeing plan for women to help them think about their emotional needs during pregnancy or after birth.

Carina Gordon, 25 and from Romsey in Hampshire, had depression in pregnancy while expecting her first child.

She said: “About four months into the pregnancy I just started feeling angry, but I shrugged it off thinking it was just hormones playing up.

“However, it only got worse - I felt like I was going mad.

“Most of the time I just hid it. I would cry in the car, as that was my private time. Eventually I told a bank midwife, who said I would be referred for treatment but no follow-up ever took place.”

Up to one in seven women experience a mental health problem in pregnancy or after birth.


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