Pregnancy is a huge life event that can come with a lot of emotions. It’s completely normal for hormones to run wild and anxieties to creep in. But it’s so important to monitor and take care of your mental health just as much as your physical health throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Common perinatal mental health issues
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has estimated that up to one in five women in the UK develop some form of mental health problem during their pregnancy or in the year after birth. Depression, Tokophobia (fear of giving birth), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder are some of the mental health issues that can arise.
It’s no surprise that the pandemic we have all lived through over the last 18 months has further compounded these issues. Research published by the National Library of Medicine reported that women who are pregnant, postpartum, miscarrying, or experiencing intimate partner violence are at especially high risk for developing mental health problems during the pandemic. And a study published in Journal of Health Psychology showed that the cancellation of fertility treatments during the pandemic has led to stress and poorer mental health among women struggling to conceive.
Perinatal women haven’t been able to access mental health services
It’s essential that pregnant women and new mums can access services to help cope during this particularly uncertain time. However, it’s been reported that thousands in England have been denied vital help for their mental health because of the pandemic.
Analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) suggests that 47,000 women were expected to access perinatal mental health services between 2020-21, but only 31,261 managed to get help in the most recent data for the 2020 calendar year only.
It also reported that the pandemic was not the only reason the mental health of thousands of women was overlooked. Variation in care throughout the country due to lack of local investment in perinatal mental health services meant pregnant women were unable to get support in many areas of England. Basically, it’s another unfair game of postcode lottery.
Access to perinatal mental health services has always been an issue
In a 2019 government report on perinatal mental health, before the pandemic even hit, the government said: “Historically there has been a lack of integrated physical and mental health care for women during pregnancy and in the weeks and months following birth, and a lack of specialist perinatal mental health services to support women who become unwell.”
But support was broadly on track before coronavirus. In 2019-20, 30,625 women accessed perinatal mental health services, against the expectation of 32,000 outlined in the NHS long term plan.
How perinatal women in different areas in London are affected
In all local areas in England, at least 7.1% of pregnant women and new mothers are expected to need support from mental health services. North central London is the worst performing area in the country with just 150 pregnant women accessing specialist support out of the 1,521 women who are expected to need it. In west London, however, 250 women accessed support during the pandemic, exceeding the expectation of 181 set by the NHS for that area.
How to access perinatal mental services in east London
“Here at The Maya Centre, we consider each transition in a woman’s life to be integral to her mental wellbeing,” says our CEO Emma Brech. “Not only in terms of how she responds, but in terms of how she is understood, informed and supported to see herself through to the next phase of her life.
We’d love to join up with services offering fertility, pregnancy or post-natal services to think how we can better support women as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Pregnancy and childbirth – whether planned, unplanned or desired and not achieved – is one of those life-changing transitions which is still not talked about enough in terms of the complex emotional impact, and can be particularly isolating for women from minoritised communities. We’d love to join up with services offering fertility, pregnancy or post-natal services to think how we can better support women as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Here are some existing services that you can reach out to today:
Perinatal service at ELFT (East London and Bedfordshire & Luton) provides specialist care for women with mental health problems who are pregnant or in the first post-partum year, or who are considering pregnancy.
NELF NHS Foundation Trust has launched a Perinatal parent infant mental health service (PPIMHS)in the London boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest
Tommy’s provide support for women who are going through pregnancy or have experienced miscarriage.
Images: Anastasiia Chepinska and Isabela Drasovean via Unsplash