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Maternal mental health matters

More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. Examples of perinatal mental illness include antenatal depression, postnatal depression, anxiety, perinatal obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), postpartum psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can have a profound and lasting impact on the mum, baby and family.

This is a topic close to my heart, with my own mum struggling with OCD triggered by a traumatic birth. Yet for these women, experiencing devastating illnesses, there is limited access to specialist maternal mental health care. Recent research from the maternal mental health alliance found there are no services in 26% of NHS areas in the UK.

Equality for physical and mental health

Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in the UK. This is a shocking statistic, and representative of the failings in maternal mental health care. It also demonstrates the lack of equal treatment for physical and mental health.

This inequality needs to end. And we must also go further in recognising that physical and mental health are intricately linked and cannot be treated in silos. Pregnancy complications have a huge impact on mental health, past traumas can be relieved through traumatic births and maternal stress can impact foetal development. Becoming a mother is also a major transition point for women both emotionally and socially. It is therefore vital that care holistically and consistently integrates physical and mental health.

It’s time to break the taboo
7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal illness. This can be for a whole range of complex and devastating reasons, including the fear of not being seen as a good mother. There has been a lot of brilliant campaigns recently – including the #shoutieselfie – aiming to raise awareness of how common maternal mental health problems are. This is crucial so that women feel able to talk about their experiences, without fear of judgement or shame.

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