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Mental health stigma for new parents must be tackled, says college

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Nurses and midwives are calling for greater awareness of mental health during and after pregnancy.

A survey has revealed that new parents are experiencing depression or anxiety without professional support because they feel too afraid to seek help.

The survey of 2,000 new mothers and fathers found that 41% experienced anxiety, depression or another mental health issue during or after the pregnancy of their first child.

Less than half, 46%, considered seeking help from a health care professional, with the majority relying on their partner or other relatives for support.

“All healthcare staff should be aware of the importance of the mental health of mothers and fathers”

Carmel Bagness

Around a quarter of those who did not seek professional support said they were “too afraid” and 11% did not know that support was available from health care staff.

The findings suggest many parents are missing out on potentially life-saving support, because of stigma around mental illness, according to the Royal College of Nursing, which commissioned the survey.

The survey also revealed that 27% of fathers experienced depression or anxiety during or after the pregnancy, revealing an area of mental health traditionally less well understood.

Carmel Bagness, professional lead for midwifery and women’s health at the RCN, said: “There is still a stigma around mental health which must be addressed, but this stigma is even more pervasive when it comes to parents.

“Too many parents worry that going through depression or anxiety means they will be deemed unfit parents,” she said. “All healthcare staff should be aware of the importance of the mental health of mothers and fathers.

“Midwives and nurses know how important openness and understanding is when it comes to mental health. Their employers should now ensure they have the training, and the time, to treat the mental health of mothers and fathers as well as they treat their physical health,” she added.

“As a mother who experienced mental illness after the birth of my daughter, I am very aware of how frightening and isolating an experience it can be”

Clare Dolman

Clare Dolman, acting vice chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said she “wholeheartedly endorsed” the RCN’s call for more training to combat the stigma towards new parents who experience mental health difficulties.

“They need the understanding and support of all those around them: not just family and friends but health professionals too,” she added.

The YouGov survey, commissioned by the RCN, involved 2,000 parents who had their first child within the last five years and was carried out from 20-30 October.

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