How easy is it to confuse hormonal mood swings and emotional hiccups during pregnancy with much more serious mental health issues?

A worrying new study shows that nearly half (42%) of new mothers’ mental health issues are undiagnosed and untreated.

Too many new mums’ mental health problems untreated and undiagnosed
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After nine months of waiting for your child to be born, some women are left with feelings of confusion and don’t understand why they are not experiencing the much-talked about joy and euphoria of having a baby. Instead, sadly, too many go on to suffer postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis. NCT, a parents’ charity has launched its ‘Hidden Half’ campaign, which aims to help put a stop to women suffering alone.

Half of the more than 1,000 mothers surveyed experienced mental health problems at some time during pregnancy or within the first year of their child’s birth.

Crucially, opportunities to spot mental health issues are missed during the six-week postnatal check-up after baby is born, as it could be a vital opportunity to uncover any physical and mental health problems for women and babies.

Too many new mums’ mental health problems untreated and undiagnosed
Image Credit: www.123rf.com.

Other headlines in the study include:  

  • Over a fifth (22%) of women who had the six-week check were not asked about their emotional wellbeing at all.
  • Nearly 20% with an emotional or mental health problem did not feel able to disclose it in the check.
  • Nearly half (43%) of those who didn’t disclose a problem said their doctor did not seem interested or sympathetic, a quarter (24%) said there wasn’t time and 46% were worried that health professionals would think they weren’t capable of looking after their baby. 

Erin Lee, a mother who experienced undiagnosed postnatal depression for more than two years and eventually took an overdose, said: “The doctor didn’t have the time to talk to me properly at my six-week check and my feelings were just dismissed as ‘normal’ for new mums but they weren’t normal. No one even mentioned postnatal depression. It was only when I ended up taking an overdose that someone finally listened to me.”

A spokesperson for NCT said: “It is shocking that so many new mothers aren’t getting the help they need which can have a devastating impact on the women and their families. Some mothers aren’t being open about how they’re feeling as they’re terrified they’re going to have their baby taken away and others are not being asked about their emotional wellbeing at all. A third of women said their six-week check was rushed and for some, it lasted only three minutes.

The charity is also calling for better maternal mental health training and guidance for doctors so they are better equipped to discuss emotional wellbeing with mothers.

Sign up to the Hidden Half campaign at www.nct.org.uk/hiddenhalf