Mental health of new mothers

Nearly half of new mothers with mental health issues don’t get diagnosed or treated according to new research into the mental health of new mothers.

The shocking findings have been released by NCT as it launches its Hidden Half campaign to stop women suffering alone.

The survey found half (50%) of mothers experienced mental health issues at some time during pregnancy or within the first year of their child’s birth.

These can include postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis.

Key findings on mental health of new mothers

The research also highlights how the six-week postnatal check-up is failing to pick up mental health issues in mothers. The routine health check, six weeks after a baby’s birth, is a vital opportunity to uncover any physical and mental health issues for women and babies.

NCT found:

  • Over a fifth (22%) of women who had the six-week check were not asked about their emotional wellbeing at all.
  • Nearly 20% with an emotional or mental health issue did not feel able to disclose it in the check.
  • Nearly half (43%) of those who didn’t disclose an issue said their doctor did not seem interested or sympathetic, a quarter (24%) said there wasn’t time and 46% were worried that health professionals would think they weren’t capable of looking after their baby.

Parents’ charity, NCT is calling for an improvement to the six-week postnatal check-up to reduce the number of mothers who don’t get diagnosed and treated properly. Extra funding would go a long way to reduce the pressure GPs face in supporting new mums.

A mother’s story of her mental health issues

Erin Lee, a mother who experienced undiagnosed postnatal depression for over two years and eventually took an overdose, said, ‘The doctor didn’t have the time to talk to me properly at my six-week check and my feelings were just dismissed as “normal” for new mums, but they weren’t normal. No one even mentioned postnatal depression. It was only when I ended up taking an overdose that someone finally listened to me.’

Devastating impact of lack of help

Sarah McMullen, Head of Knowledge, NCT, said, ‘It is shocking that so many new mothers aren’t getting the help they need which can have a devastating impact on the women and their families. Some mothers aren’t being open about how they’re feeling as they’re terrified they’re going to have their baby taken away and others are not being asked about their emotional wellbeing at all. A third of women said their six-week check was rushed and for some, it lasted only three minutes. ‘GPs are under incredible pressure so it’s no wonder that this crucial opportunity to uncover any mental health problems is being missed.’

Recommendations for maternal mental health support

NCT recommends more funding is made available for the six-week check, so that GPs have the time to give every mother a full appointment, rather than having to squeeze it in with an examination of their baby. The charity is also calling for better maternal mental health training and guidance for doctors so they are better equipped to discuss emotional wellbeing with mothers. This comes as the Local Government Association raises the importance of mental health support for new parents.

NCT is urging people to sign up to the Hidden Half campaign.

The My Family, Our Needs Directory lists support organisations, counselling, health and wellbeing and more.