Thousands of pregnant women ‘missed out on mental health support in pandemic’

Thousands of pregnant women and new mothers were unable to access vital mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic, research has shown.

Around 16,000 women missed out on services to help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts which can occur in pregnancy and early motherhood.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) says around 47,000 women in 2020/21 were expected to access perinatal mental health services but recent data has shown that just over 31,000 did so.

Lack of support for mental health problems during and after pregnancy can have serious consequences for parents, children and their families.

The RCP says up to one in five women have mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth and two thirds of women will hide or underplay their illness.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, registrar of the RCP who works in perinatal mental health, said: “Many women can develop mental health problems for the first time during pregnancy and after birth, or are at risk of pre-existing illnesses made worse if they don’t get the right support in time.

“Staff in perinatal mental healthcare have made every effort to support women in these extremely challenging times but services have been under unprecedented strain.

“Funding for mental health facilities is long overdue but is more urgent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The RCP added that as well as disruption caused by the pandemic, variation in services across different parts of the country and lack of local investment also meant many women missed out on treatment and support with mental health.

Dr Seneviratne added: “Gaps in local funding in certain areas in England should be urgently addressed so that the same standard of care is available to all women, no matter where they live.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “We understand the challenges new and expectant mothers, and their families, have faced over the last year and we would encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out for support.

“Throughout the pandemic, mental health has remained a priority and services, including specialist perinatal mental health services which now exist in every area of England, have remained open, adapting to provide digital and remote support.

“GPs are also now required to offer a six to eight week maternal postnatal health check, including a review of new mothers’ wellbeing, as an additional appointment to that for the baby.

“We’re investing an extra £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24 as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, meaning an additional 66,000 new mothers with perinatal mental health difficulties can access specialist support by 2023/24.”