More than 40% of new mothers’ mental health problems are not being picked up by healthcare professionals, a report by a parenting charity has revealed.
The survey of 1,000 women by the National Childbirth Trust also found that half of mothers experienced mental health problems at some time during pregnancy or within the first year of their child’s birth.
“If [mental health problems] are not picked up at the six-week check, there is a significant chance of them remaining undiagnosed”
National Childbirth Trust report on postnatal mental health
This included postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum psychosis.
Meanwhile, more than a fifth of women are not asked about their emotional or mental wellbeing during a postnatal check that takes place six weeks after giving birth, said the report, called The Hidden Half: Bringing postnatal mental illness out of hiding.
Around 50% of those mothers who had a mental health or emotional problem that they wanted to discuss at the health check – which usually takes place at a local GP practice – said they didn’t feel able to speak about it.
Just over a quarter said this was because the health professional didn’t seem interested and 15% said it was because they didn’t believe the professional would be sympathetic.
Around 60% said they did not feel able to discuss emotional problems at the six-week check due to embarrassment, shame, or being worried the health professional would think they were not capable of looking after their baby.
“While a pregnant woman has many healthcare appointments before the birth of her baby, the six-week check may be the last routine appointment she has with a health professional with checks on her, as opposed to the baby,” said NCT in its report.
”A concerted effort is needed to improve care for women and this means investment in midwives and other health professionals so that we have the right numbers”
“Given many new mothers’ reluctance to actively seek help for mental health problems, if they are not picked up at the six-week check, there is a significant chance of them remaining undiagnosed,” it added.
The charity is calling for more funding to be made available for the six-week check so that GPs have the time to give every mother a full appointment.
Commenting on the report, the Royal College of Midwives said the findings were “worrying” and noted the situation seemed not to have improved since a report by the RCM in 2014 which also identified gaps in mental health care for mothers.
‘It is clear that a concerted effort is needed to improve care for women and this means investment in midwives and other health professionals so that we have the right numbers, with the right skills to be able to offer advice and the right support for these women,” said RCM director for Scotland Mary Ross-Davie.