Just 7% of women with mental health problems in during pregnancy and the perinatal period are referred to specialist care, a survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has found.
In a survey of over 2300 women who had given birth in the last five years, 81% had experienced at least one episode of a mental health problem during or after their pregnancy. Low mood was experienced by over two thirds of these women, anxiety by around half and depression by just over a third. Of the 7% referred for these conditions, 38% said it took over four weeks to be seen, while some waited up to a year for treatment.
‘Giving parity of esteem to mental and physical health is crucial and we have some way to go in addressing the stigma associated with mental health,’ said Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. ‘No one is to blame for developing a mental illness and as a society we need to be reinforcing this message constantly.’
The survey also found that care provided varied significantly across the country, with a 20% difference in referral rates between some areas. The type of care received also varied, with one area providing just 8% of women with referrals to specialist maternal mental healthcare services, compared with 50% in another. The survey also revealed that 12% of women’s partners experienced a mental health problem during or after the pregnancy.
‘Healthcare professionals are often the first point of contact that a woman suffering with mental health problems reaches out to and we must ensure that all staff involved in the care of women during pregnancy and the first year after birth have relevant education and training in perinatal mental health,’ added professor Reagan.