More needs to be done to help health professionals to support women’s mental health during pregnancy, according to a joint survey by a charity and a union.
The survey, taken by 419 of the UK’s midwives and health visitors, identified a range of problems they faced when dealing with prenatal and postnatal mental illnesses.
“Support for women with pregnancy related mental health problems is improving, but there is still a long way to go”
Many of the findings from the survey, by the PANDAS Foundation and the Community Practioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, indicated a lack of training or specific knowledge on mental health during pregnancy.
For example, 72% of midwives and health visitors who took the survey said they did not think the current amount of training received on prenatal and postnatal mental illnesses was sufficient.
The survey suggested 32% of midwives and health visitors received only between one to three hours of formal education about perinatal mental illnesses during their initial training
After qualification, 35% of midwives and health visitors said that they were then provided with just one to three hours of yearly training on perinatal mental illnesses.
However, 29% of these said that such training was non-mandatory and 17% that they were only offered training on perinatal mental illnesses between every two to three years.
But 45% said they were not offered any additional non-mandatory training on prenatal or postnatal mental illnesses at all, though 35% said they would like more training on perinatal mental health.
Possibly as a result of the training gaps, 16% of midwives and health visitors who answered the survey said they were not confident talking to their clients about pre-natal mental illnesses.
In addition, 39% did not feel they had the appropriate skills and knowledge to deal with a patient who presented with a prenatal mental illness, from diagnosis to referral and then follow up.
Meanwhile, 92% of midwives and health visitors said that they thought education about prenatal and postnatal mental illnesses should be given to parents in antenatal classes as standard.
Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said the latest survey results reflected findings of a similar survey by the RCM in 2014.
“Support for women with pregnancy related mental health problems is improving, but there is still a long way to go,” she said.
“We are still short of specialist maternal mental health midwives, specialist mother and baby units and specialist services within the community where women with mental health problems can initially be supported to avoid their condition worsening.,” she said.
“This is despite the government’s commitments to improve services for these women and this survey shows that they need to do much more,” said Ms Fyle.
She added: “We will continue to press for better services and more resources, such as every maternity service having a specialist mental health midwife. The government also need to ensure there are enough midwives so that midwives can offer these women the vital support they need.”
The survey was carried out to coincide with Pre and Postnatal Depression Awareness Week approaches – 4-10 September. An infographic with more results from the survey is attached below (see PDF).