A NHS unit in Leeds is leading the way in helping pregnant women and new mums dealing with mental health issues linked to the pressures of motherhood. Chris Burn reports.
It is supposed to be the happiest time of your life, but for many expectant and new mothers the challenge of having a new baby - and the attendant pressures to act as though everything is going perfectly - puts considerable strain on their mental health.
The NHS has set aside £23m of new funding to tackle the problem, just a fortnight after the Duchess of Cambridge spoke out about the burden of expectation facing new mothers.
Speaking during a visit to an NHS mother and baby unit in London that treats women with serious psychological issues, the duchess, who is currently pregnant with her third child, said: “As a mother, there’s an expectation to be super happy all the time and one in four of us aren’t.”
The seriousness of the problem is illustrated by the fact that suicide is leading cause of death for pregnant women and those with babies. A recent survey also found that 90 per cent of new mothers admit to feeling lonely, with 54 per cent saying they feel they have fewer friends than before they had children.
One of the 17 specialist units for mothers who are suffering with mental health difficulties in the country is based in Leeds and has six rooms available where people can stay with their children. The Leeds group also runs community and outreach services and puts on therapeutic groups for mothers to bond with their babies and build their relationships.
Deborah Page, Acting Perinatal Mental Health Services Operations Manager at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, says: “There are three parts to our perinatal services including a community team, so this funding announcement is very welcome.
“We provide care for mums who aren’t quite unwell enough to be in hospital, but who are too unwell for ongoing treatment from their GP or other local services. Things can still be very difficult for them, but seeking the right help can lead to recovery.
“As well as community services, we run a regional mother and baby inpatient unit and an outreach service, which provides ongoing support to mums who’ve recently been discharged.
“We also run a number of therapeutic groups to help both mothers and their babies. These are really popular and one that we’ve found particularly beneficial for our community patients is called Jabadao. This helps mums and babies to connect through the medium of sound, touch, texture and play, and it’s really useful for helping mums to feel skilled at interacting with and understanding their child, while building up their relationship.
"One of the key things for us is to help mums to understand that they’re not alone in experiencing mental illness and that it’s not their fault. All of our services are designed to set mums on the right path, to give them hope, and to show them that mental illness is not a barrier to being a great parent.”
The NHS has now confirmed that extra funding will be made available nationally to improve the mental health of at least 3,000 pregnant women and those who have recently given birth.
The £23m funding is part of a major programme of improvement and investment by NHS England which will see a total of 30,000 additional women getting specialist mental health care, in person and through online consultations including over skype, during the early stages of motherhood, supported by a total of £365m, by 2021.
Perinatal mental ill health affects up to 20 per cent of women during pregnancy and in their first year after giving birth.
As well as being crucial to new mothers, new-borns and their families, perinatal services, alongside other treatments for common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, can play an important role in ensuring mental health is integrated into overall healthcare at the earliest possible stage of life.
The new funding for community perinatal services follows additional spending since 2016 of £40m, which will see over 6,000 new mums receiving specialist mental health care by April.
The development of community services is part of an overall package of increasing access to perinatal care, which includes the creation of four new mother and baby units and the recruitment of over 200 specialist staff.
Claire Murdoch, director of mental health for NHS England, says: “With so many new mums having the joy of motherhood interrupted by mental ill health, improving care, investment and focus on this issue is crucial.
“Falling pregnant and becoming a mum is a hugely emotional experience, so having expert support available, including working with people’s partners as well as their wider family and social networks, to help manage the upheaval, means that women who are experiencing mental health issues don’t have to suffer and struggle alone.”