For any family, emotional wellbeing matters. When it comes to mental health the perinatal period can be a challenging time. Adjusting to life with a new baby is hard, but for some families the transition to parenthood is complicated by a traumatic birth, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or psychosis. The impact on families can be devastating, especially if they are unable to access support. Coping day to day becomes hard, relationships can become strained and caring for their new baby overwhelming.
For some families so serious is the issue that it can mean not being able to function at all, resulting in the need to stay in mental health unit. However sometimes this means mum and baby are separated. Sadly for some families the consequences are the loss of a loved one to the ravages of perinatal mental health. The figures are staggering.
Yet families are often left without the support they need. Due to perinatal mental health issues being diverse, complex and difficult to diagnosis, families can find accessing help or treatment difficult. Often it is a ‘postcode lottery’ as to whether families get the right help. Some areas have excellent services to support families, but in other areas there are big gaps, with families not able to access the right services. By failing to prevent, diagnosis, treat and support perinatal mental health issues, we are jeopardising the wellbeing of families now and in the future.
It is also the cost to society, both financially but also the human cost, because it affects a whole family, including extended family such as grandparents. It can put pressure on families that mean they struggle to cope. For many years investment in services has been lacking. This is now improving with with funding being allocated to set up specialist services in many areas. However what about those who do not meet the criteria for specialist services? For many they will find that they are left without the help they need. Especially is this true for families coping with after a difficult birth or the loss of a baby, with many maternity units not having services in place to support families.
Often those in place to care for families are not given the training they need to support perinatal mental health. In fact 41% of women report that they were never asked about their mental health by their midwife or Health visitor.
GP’s too are often left without adequate training to support perinatal mental health, or without services to refer women to. This leaves families vulnerable and counting the cost emotionally. Early diagnosis, management and treatment for perinatal mental helps prevent women reaching the point where they are at breaking point or need inpatient care.
For women with previous mental health issues, support during pregnancy is vital it enables them to be in control and prevent their mental health escalating after birth. This is true also for those who have had a previous traumatic birth, miscarriages or the loss of a baby. Support during pregnancy that builds trust, reassures and allows for planning with informed choice and evidence based information goes a long way in protecting mental health.
The Human Cost
For families left struggling with the effects of perinatal mental health it can be life changing as it seeps into every aspect of life. Perinatal mental health can affect a mother’s ability to care for her baby, how she parents her baby and her relationship with her baby. Bonding and attachment can sometimes be affected. For the woman herself she can feel lost, isolated, scared to reach out and tell anyone what she maybe feeling. Sadly for 1 in 7 families affected by perinatal mental health the end result is a women lost to suicide. This doesn’t take into account the partners that are also affected. Yes the human cost is great.
We can make a difference. By working together, by listening to the experiences of those affected by birth trauma or perinatal mental health and by campaigning for awareness, training, and specialist services we can help families get the support and treatment they need.
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