Maternal mental health week
30th April 2018
Later this month is an exciting event called “Maternal mental health week” which is bringing more awareness to the mental health challenge many women face during and after pregnancy. This is the 2nd year and the theme is ‘Support For All’ with a focus on enabling all families affected by perinatal mental illness to access the information and help they require for recovery. Mental health problems are sadly common during pregnancy and after birth. More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental health problem, including conditions like OCD, PTSD and anxiety. This can have a profound and lasting impact on the mum, baby and family.
Maternal mental health week is close to my heart
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.
Kicking off maternal mental health week
Most mums struggle with mental health issues. A recent report by Dr Louise Howard of King’s College London stated that 1 in 4 mums struggle with their mental health during pregnancy. Another found that more than 1 in 3 mums struggle post-natally. This might seem high, but in a recent MummyLinks survey 70% said they were currently, or had suffered with a mental health issue. Almost 30% struggled with depression, 30% with anxiety, and 15% with other issues such as OCD and PTSD.
So why are these figures so high? And seem to be rising?
One reason is that we are talking about it more. We’ve seen leaps and bounds in progress regarding talking about maternal mental health recently – and the celebrities and key figures have been great at helping this cause from Gwyneth Paltrow, to Stacey Solomon, to Andrea Leadsom. This does make it seem that the instances are rising. But is it just that people are more open about it? People didn’t used to talk about cancer after all, and now we wouldn’t dream of hiding that away.
But is there a bigger issue? Founder of infertility blog, Emily Tredget believes so. She says: “Despite feeling more connected through social media, mums are more lonely than ever.” Her MummyLinks survey also asked mums how lonely they felt and a staggering. Almost half of the mums surveyed had high levels of loneliness (66 or more out of 100), and all mums said they were lonely some of the time. Interestingly she found that being part of a service such as NCT reduced loneliness by 22% – coincidentally, the same percentage that being part of NCT reduced mental health issues by. Of those not part of NCT 2 in 3 mums struggled. But for those part of NCT it was just 1 in 2.
“This doesn’t surprise me at all”, says Emily. “I found NCT invaluable – not only for teaching me about the birth itself, but more importantly for connecting with mums local to me who were going through the same experience, all within a month of each other.”
But, Emily believes that 1 in 2 struggling is still too high, and something needs to be done.
“Yes NCT is invaluable, but for some it’s too expensive, and even with this the rates of maternal mental health issues is just too high. Four mums close by is great, but this isn’t enough of a community to help you through when things get tough, or you just want to get out of the house and they’re not free.”
When is Maternal Mental Health week?
Maternal Mental Health week 2018 took place April 30th to Mary 6th and Emily arranged a campaign called #ShoutieSelfie. It aims to raise awareness of maternal mental health and fight the stigma. She ran it first in 2017 having just 2 months of social media experience, and 10 days to plan it. Despite this it got maternal mental health trending in its first half an hour and 1 million impressions. This year she is arranging an even bigger campaign with thousands of supporters – from NCT, to PANDAS, to ready to hit social media with their “shoutie selfie” to get people talking. Watch closely and you might even see a celebrity face or two shouting that week!
➡ In 2019 Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week will take place April 29th–May 3rd.
Emily’s own struggle and campaign
As Emily recounts:
“#ShoutieSelfie is so important to me. I struggled with PND, PNA and PTSD after the birth of my son in 2015. Instead of being the best time of my life it was the worst. I went from being a confident and successful woman, to being scared to have coffee with a close friend. I was anxious whenever I was left alone with my son because I didn’t believe I knew how to look after him. It wasn’t until I started hearing that it wasn’t just me that was struggling. I realised it wasn’t that I was an awful person and mother. I was ill, and I could get help. And that’s why I’m now on a mission to ensure all mums – and dads – currently struggling know they are not alone and that they can get better.”
The maternal mental health week campaign helps to reduce the stigma, but doesn’t address the loneliness felt on a day to day basis by millions of mums UK (and world!) wide. So Emily isn’t stopping there. She has been working tirelessly to create a new app to help mums beat loneliness through safe and local playdates. MummyLinks is currently a facebook group, but by summer the app will be out for mums to test.
“When I was struggling with loneliness – which for me lead to post natal depression – I set up a local whatsapp group of mums I knew, and they added mums they knew locally. It was great as if somebody cancelled last minute, or you haven’t arranged a playdate, you could ping a message out to a large number of local mums at once and usual find someone also keen to meet –whether you knew them directly, or not. But I realised I was lucky to be in this situation, and even with 15 or so mums in the group, sometimes nobody was free. I often wanted an app to do this – I didn’t mind.”
“Meeting a new mum, I just wanted a reason to get out of the house and a chat! Being invite only makes it a bit harder to join, but it’s key that mums using the service feel safe. It’s something I always felt, and in chatting to many mums around the UK I’ve found that it’s really important to most of them too.”
Growing support to help women
Similar services have been popping up over the last year or two – most notably Mush and Peanut which both have millions of pounds backing and are headed up by marketing and tech gurus (Peanut is a collaboration between Deliveroo and Badoo founders) – but this isn’t deterring Emily.
“I may not have tons of investment, but I truly believe that the community we are creating is going to be highly beneficial. Not just to mums struggling with mental health issues – to all mums. And if we can reduce loneliness, and therefore some cases of mental health issues, then I have achieved what I set out to do.”
We’re super excited for Maternal Mental Health Week. To get involved with the campaign on 30th April search for #ShoutieSelfie or @MummyLinksApp on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and follow her lead!
To ask to join MummyLinks head to Facebook here www.facebook.com/groups/MummyLinks