The stigma attached to mental illness is stopping pregnant women who are experiencing antenatal depression from seeking treatment and support from health professionals, a survey suggests.
Almost a third (30%) of the mothers-to-be said they frequently experienced five or more key indicators of antenatal depression – such as feeling anxious for no reason, losing interest in day-to-day activities and feeling so unhappy they cried.
“Our research shows that admitting to suffering from symptoms whilst pregnant is something many expectant mums feel unable to do”
The findings suggested almost a quarter of a million pregnant women each year in the UK could be battling depression during their pregnancies, according to the parenting website BabyCentre, which conducted the survey.
It also found that 42% did talk to a health professional about their symptoms, with the top three reasons for not doing so being that they feel guilty, embarrassed about these feelings, or fear they will be judged by the people around them.
More than a quarter of those experiencing symptoms said they had not discussed them with anyone – including their partner, a close friend or a family member.
The findings also showed that when health professionals were consulted, they were twice as likely to prescribe medication as talking therapies – 15% were put on medication, compared to 7% who were referred for cognitive behavioural therapy.
Sasha Miller, international managing editor of BabyCentre, said: “While pregnancy is an emotional time for any woman and occasional mood swings are normal, so many women experiencing so many symptoms so much of the time is a serious problem.
“There is still a stigma attached to depression and our research shows that admitting to suffering from symptoms whilst pregnant is something many expectant mums feel unable to do,” she said.
“As a result, they aren’t seeking the help and support they need from health professionals. This needs to change,” she added.
“It highlights the urgent need for investment in perinatal mental health services”
When asked about their biggest worries regarding life with a newborn, 63% of pregnant womane said developing postnatal depression, 60% said not having enough money and 51% said their baby’s health.
In comparison, among pregnant women who rarely or never experienced symptoms of depression, 47% worried about lack of sleep, 39% their baby’s health and 27% not having enough money.
Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said the findings were “consistent” with previous evidence and that there was an “urgent need for investment in perinatal mental health services”.
“From our own research, we know that midwives are often unable to provide the type of support and attention that women suffering from mental health issues require because of a lack of services locally,” she warned.
“We also need to recognise that not all women are depressed in pregnancy, not all women need medication,” she said. “There is also a need to be careful about labelling them as ‘depressed’. This is the area that frightens women into not seeking help.”
Ms Fyle noted that pregnancy was a “life changing event” that could naturally lead to “anxiety and worry”.
“We need to consider the appropriateness of prescribing medication, because it is important that the prescriber has the expertise on when, and what, to prescribe for pregnant women, and what the potential side-effects of these drugs are,” she said.