The importance of improving perinatal and postnatal services has come to the fore this year, specifically when it comes to mental health issues stemming from experiences around pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth and childbirth.
Perinatal Mental Health Support
A series of 26 new NHS hubs aim to support new, expecting and bereaved mothers (and, by extension, their families) through a combination of maternity services, reproductive health and psychological therapy. Through these hubs, women in need will be able to access support for mental health issues such as PTSD after a traumatic labour.
Services will initially support around 6000 women but these are set for fast expansion. Ultimately, Dr. Giles Berrisford, NHS England’s national specialty advisor for perinatal mental health, explains that: “The hubs… will significantly contribute to the overall commitment of the NHS to enable at least 66,000 women with moderate to severe mental health difficulties related to motherhood to access specialist care by 2023/24.”
With more than 30,000 women seen in specialist perinatal mental health community services in 2019/20, there is a clear need to provide support to mothers in the months leading up to childbirth. As this is a time when many mental health issues begin, early intervention and treatment are critical to optimise outcomes for mother and baby.
Accessing Crucial Support
While these are positive developments for public healthcare, the fact remains that the sheer volume of women in need far outweighs the level of support available. Ten hubs will be established within months with the remainder opening by April 2022; further plans are in place for every area to have a hub by April 2024 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
With one in every four women currently experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy and during the 24 months after giving birth, the services will struggle to cater effectively to the volume of demand during the early stages of rollout.
While the hubs are obviously not the only avenue towards accessing mental health support, it does highlight how far public healthcare has to go to meet perinatal and postnatal mental health needs.
This is also especially concerning due to the stigma surrounding access to care. It is currently estimated that it costs the NHS and social care sector £1.2 billion per year where women do not access high-quality perinatal mental health services. Women often feel ashamed or fearful about suffering from mental health concerns during their pregnancy or traumatised by their experiences around struggling to get pregnant or going through childbirth.
This means it is often a battle even just to make the initial call to ask for help. It is therefore essential to make this pathway as smooth as possible. This means the fastest possible access to care to minimise the risk of issues escalating.
We also have the pandemic to contend with. Research shows a sharp increase in mental health issues among new and expecting mothers since COVID-19, making it even more vital to have a fully comprehensive support framework.
A major research study shows that rates of postnatal depression among new and expecting mothers have almost tripled during the pandemic due to the impact of social and physical isolation. Dr. Margie Davenport, co-author of the study, explains that “detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of both mother and baby that can persist for years.” Early intervention is therefore not a luxury but a necessity.
The study of 900 women was conducted by the University of Alberta in Canada and showed that the number of women reporting symptoms of maternal depression has increased to 41 per cent compared to 15 per cent before the outbreak began. In addition, the number of women expediting moderate to high anxiety symptoms has risen from 29 per cent to 72 per cent.
With many women at higher risk in the first weeks after having a baby, the researchers also found that the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety has “substantially increased” since the pandemic began. This means an urgent need will need to be met in the coming months and years for women who have gone through pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, childbirth and all associated issues during this time.
With maternal depression closely linked to premature delivery, developmental delays in infants and poorer quality of relationships between the mother and close family members, such as the baby’s father or older siblings, this could mean major repercussions for the next generation.
Private healthcare has the capacity to respond to such urgent needs as quickly as possible with the highest calibre of care for families in desperate need. A new addition to the family is a major transition time for everyone. We encourage you to set things up for the best possible outcomes from the very beginning to protect everyone’s health and happiness