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Updated support for women's mental health problems

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Support for women with mental health problems Extra support for women with mental health problems before and after pregnancy

NICE has updated guidance on women's mental health issues before and after pregnancy. The update will help nurses, health visitors, midwives and doctors to identify mental health problems in mothers and pregnant women.

Since the original guidance was published in February 2007 more information has become available about using drugs to treat mental health problems during pregnancy and on stopping medication, which will be included in the updated guidance.

The guidance will advise clinicians on how to help women that already have mental health problems and understand what is available to them if they are planning to have a baby.

It will also cover how women and their partners should be offered extra support if they have had a difficult birth, have miscarried or had a stillbirth.

The guidance aims to reflect the enhanced knowledge that healthcare professionals have around detecting and treating mental health issues, since the previous guidance was published seven years ago.

Professor Louise Howard, professor in women's mental health at King's College London and chair of the group that developed the guideline, said: 'This guideline aims to highlight the full range of mental health problems that can occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, and ensure they are identified and treated promptly. These disorders are common but treatable and we hope that this guideline will help women get comprehensive holistic assessment and treatment quickly so that pregnancy, and the period after childbirth, are times of optimal mental and physical health.'

Dr Alain Gregoire, a psychiatrist and chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, recently said that health visitors were crucial to combating mental health problems in mothers. 'Depression is the most common severe challenge to motherhood above all conditions.'

Maternal and children's mental health formed part of the DH's week of action in November where the first day was dedicated to wellbeing.

Charities such as PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support) and Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, have welcomed the updated guidance that will help nurses, midwives, health visitors and doctors to detect problems earlier.

NICE said women are at greater risk of mental health problems during and after pregnancy and the effects for families can last for a long time. Around 12 per cent of women experience depression and 13 per cent experience anxiety at some point and many women will experience both.

The range of disorders which women may experience include depression, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, tokophobia (extreme fear of childbirth), eating disorders, substance misuse, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, with an increased risk of psychosis in the weeks after childbirth.

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