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Too many new mothers still denied access to mental health support

Monday 23rd April 2018
Thousands of women are still being prevented from accessing potentially life-saving postnatal mental health support, a new report highlights. Image: Handemandaci via iStock
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A significant number of women who require mental health support after giving birth in the UK each year are being denied access to this help, simply because of where they live.

According to new research carried out by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there are still no formal perinatal mental health services in 26 per cent of NHS areas throughout Britain.

This is despite the fact that NHS figures suggest as many as 20 per cent of the 775,000 women who give birth in the country each year require mental health support afterwards.

Conditions that can affect women during the postnatal period include anxiety, depression and even psychotic illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which can put both them and their baby at risk.

Therefore, it is paramount that women's postnatal wellbeing is monitored closely, and that mental health support services are available to them locally should they need to access them.

Yet 26.3 per cent of NHS areas have no specialist postnatal psychiatrists available to help new mothers, although the number of locations offering access to these healthcare professionals has increased since 2015 from 55 to 109.

Speaking to the Guardian, chair of the MMHA Dr Alain Gregoire explained: "These services help women who have been left severely disabled, who maybe cannot get out of bed or function normally, or who have been left suicidal, or at extremely high risk of taking their lives, as a result of mental health problems associated with pregnancy and the postnatal period."

Women are more likely to develop mental health problems shortly after they have given birth than at any other time in their lives, and it is hoped that the findings of this report will lead to the gaps in perinatal mental health provision being filled. This could mean more opportunities for specialist mental health workers.

Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for NHS England, highlighted that an additional 6,000 women have been able to access this care in the last 12 months alone thanks to increased investment in this area.

Written by Angela Newbury

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