New mothers and fathers are reluctant to speak about their mental health with professionals due to the stigma surrounding the issue, a survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has found.
The survey of 2000 mothers and fathers, who had recently had a child, found that 41% experienced anxiety, depression or another mental health issue during or after the pregnancy of their first child. Of these, 46% said that they sought help from a healthcare professional, while 26% said that they were ‘too afraid’ to seek support from a professional. Instead the majority said that they relied on their partner or other relatives for support.
‘There is still a stigma around mental health which must be addressed, but this stigma is even more pervasive when it comes to parents’ said Carmel Bagness, professional lead for midwifery and women’s health at the RCN.
‘Too many parents worry that going through depression or anxiety means they will be deemed unfit parents, and this can be a hugely damaging – and incorrect – assumption which is putting lives at risk and preventing people getting the support they deserve,’ she added.
The RCN said the stigma surrounding mental health prevents new parents from accessing potentially life-saving support and treatment. Eleven per cent of the respondents did not know that mental health support was available from healthcare staff.
‘Midwives and nurses know how important openness and understanding is when it comes to mental health,’ Ms Bagness said. ‘Their employers should now ensure they have the training, and the time, to treat the mental health of mothers and fathers as well as they treat their physical health.’
The survey identified the mental health of new fathers as a particular concern. While 27% of men who recently had a child experienced mental health problems, 64% of them were not asked about their wellbeing during and after the mother’s pregnancy.