How to access mental health support before and after birth

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An estimated one in five women struggle with their mental health in the perinatal period – which is during pregnancy and in the year after birth. The sooner you seek support, the better.

Dr Miriam Donaghy is a psychotherapist and CEO of MumsAid, a Greenwich-based organisation which has so far helped more than 5,000 women. Here’s her advice on getting the help you need…


‘Early identification of perinatal mental health issues is vital’

When I returned from maternity leave to my job at the charity Mind, 23 years ago, I started a group for new mothers. I knew all too well just how vulnerable your mental health can be at this stage – my grandmother had such severe postnatal depression that she was separated from her baby (my father), which had a lifelong impact on his own mental wellbeing.

Back then, one of the problems, as I saw it, was that specialist care was hard to access – which still hasn’t been resolved more than two decades later. Today, up to 20% of women experience a perinatal mental health issue, yet only half of mothers are identified and even fewer receive treatment.

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Miriam Donaghy, Mumsaid CEO

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I estimate it’s the top 5% of the most seriously unwell women that the NHS focuses on, and while it’s obviously vital that those women receive care, it means the other 95% are left to the care of (often poorly funded) voluntary services.

It’s just one of the reasons why, in 2012, I set up MumsAid, a charity to support women perinatally in south-east London, with the belief that early identification of perinatal mental health difficulties is vital.

We accept self-referrals from the women themselves, as well as from other professionals involved in their care. Since the start of the pandemic, more women have reached out – a result of Covid complications in hospitals, the lack of in-person antenatal classes, being separated from family members and the looming cost-of-living crisis.

I’d encourage anyone who’s struggling before or after childbirth to ask their GP, midwife or health visitor for support as soon as possible; they’ll either direct you to an NHS service or a local organisation like ours. Feeling overly stressed over a period of several weeks, feeling like your emotions are not returning to your baseline ‘normal’, disturbances to your eating and sleeping patterns and strained relationships with family and friends are all signs that you might benefit from reaching out for help.

There are reasons to be hopeful. The NHS named perinatal mental health a priority area in its 2019 Long Term Plan – something I wouldn’t have believed possible 20 years ago, when there was no funding at all. I know it’ll take time to roll out extra support, but it feels like maternal mental health is finally getting the spotlight it deserves.

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