BrightonMums.com are support this petition to Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England – New mothers are struggling.
At least one in ten mothers in Britain experiences post-natal depression (PND) according to research, and many more are suffering in silence. Too many women are falling through the cracks in maternal healthcare as their physical and emotional needs go unmet. Peer support projects such as Mothers Uncovered can stop the development of PND in its tracks.
PND doesn’t just affect the mother, it affects her family – and it affects you.
When the mother’s needs are not met, nor are those of her family. The impacts of perinatal mental health problems on children include emotional difficulties, behavioural problems and special educational needs (1). Postnatal depression has been associated with an increase in family conflict and has a detrimental impact on a partner’s mental health, as well as causing financial problems (2,3).
You may think if you’re not a parent, this doesn’t affect you. It does. Inadequate maternal care costs the UK £8bn  a year, with a comparatively modest £337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to bolt the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures?
Why does the problem exist? First, because women are not supported adequately around their birth, often seeing several different professionals during their pregnancy and labour. A traumatic birth can have a long-term impact on mental health. And once the baby is born, most women are signed off by their health visitor after ten days and left to get on with it.
Second, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) from those with post-natal depression (perceived as a small proportion). The latter is usually treated with medication and specialist counselling. To access a PND group you need to be referred by your doctor or health visitor. There is a shaming stigma of ‘not coping’ and many women do not identify themselves as ‘depressed’. Most women have ‘new motherhood syndrome’ in which it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. It is imperative that this period, with its rollercoaster of emotions, is reclassified as normal rather than extreme.
Third, many women feel they have no one to talk to. There are many mum and baby groups, but they are usually informal drop-ins in which other mothers may appear to be coping much better. Courses run in children’s centres for new parents can help, but these are usually run by a health professional, creating an ‘us and them’ atmosphere.
So what else is there?
In Brighton and Hove, there is Mothers Uncovered started in 2008 by Maggie Gordon-Walker. We have helped hundreds of women with our creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. Women meet weekly for five weeks in the same group, facilitated by mothers who are past participants. As it says on our publicity: ‘We are not perfect mothers. We certainly don’t want to tell you how to be mothers. We are going through it all too. In short, we are just like you.’
Participants quickly feel able to open up as they realise they are not the only ones struggling, they begin to feel less isolated and start to take ownership of their lives and decisions.
Of course it is essential to have the statutory services there, women are very grateful for the care that the NHS provides. However, a lot of women would never get to the stage of severe PND if the right support were there in the first place. If peer support services were given better prominence and were supported themselves, then the massive burden on the NHS would ease.
We believe it is essential that Mothers Uncovered is present everywhere, but we need your support to prove it is needed. All that is required is a welcoming room and a facilitator to manage the sessions. And some tea and biscuits. The facilitators need a small amount of training and ongoing support, which can be provided by their peers. It’s not exactly the moon on a stick, is it?!
Show your support by signing. Remember, it is not just about mothers, it’s about everyone.
1. Boath EH, Pryce AJ, Cox JL. Postnatal depression: The impact on the family. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 1998;16(2-3):199-203.
2. Burke L. The impact of maternal depression on familial relationships. International Review of Psychiatry. 2003;15(3):243-55.
3. Chew-Graham CA, Sharp D, Chamberlain E, Folkes L, Turner KM. Disclosure of symptoms of postnatal depression, the perspectives of health professionals and women: a qualitative study. BMC Fam Pract. 2009;10:9.
4. Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/20/mental-health-care-new-mothers-cost-study
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