Duchess of Cambridge speaks about plight of mothers with mental health problems

The Duchess of Cambridge has sympathised with the mental health plight faced by many mothers, saying how generally they were supposed to be "super happy" but one in four were not.

Kate's comment came as she visited a leading NHS mother and baby unit in London that treats women with serious psychological issues including those threatening suicide.

Speaking during a visit to the department, based at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, the duchess told a group of psychiatrists, midwives and health visitors specialising in treating mums with mental health issues, that "particularly as a mother, there's an expectation to be super happy all the time and one in four of us aren't".

As a mother of two young children, and six months pregnant with her third child, the duchess has developed a passion for understanding the issues surrounding mental health and how it impacts on the young, especially schoolchildren or new mothers.

During her visit she joined a mother in a sensory room with her young baby - a facility which helps to relax women and their children - and chatted privately to a group of mums with their infants, some only a few weeks old.

The duchess, who wore a baby blue coat and dress by Seraphine, was quoting research data from a study by Professor Louise Howard from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust which runs the mother and baby unit.

Kate had met Professor Howard earlier in the day when she visited King's College London, the Maudsley's academic partner, to hear about the work of its Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute developing treatments for conditions like Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, who leads the Maudsley's Perinatal Mental Health Services and hosted the royal visit, said about the mother and baby department: "Units like this are life saving because you have women who want to kill themselves because they feel so terrible, because they're so depressed or anxious or psychotic.

"And we know that suicide is the leading cause of death in pregnancy and up to a year after childbirth - this is life and death stuff."

The mother and baby unit is one of only 17 in the country, with the total due to increase to 21, and can treat up to 13 women who stay at the facility.

Ms Seneviratne, a consultant in adult and perinatal psychiatry, added that mothers needed help as soon as an issue is identified as "stressed mums can have a direct biological impact on the foetuses".

Kate met a young mum, known only as Claire, and her seven-month-old daughter Angela, who was discharged last week after receiving seven months treatment for bipolar affective disorder.

Claire said after the visit: "Having mother and baby together in this unit is quite crucial. My admission was after the birth of my daughter and if I had to be separated from her for a seven-month stay it would have been a disaster."

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