Last year, the mental health postcode lottery in England meant that thousands of women could not access essential perinatal mental health services, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Analysis of the data for 2020 revealed that around 16,000 fewer mothers than expected managed to get help with problems related to their pregnancy and mental health. Responded to the stats, leading psychiatrists warned that the lack of mental health support in motherhood can have serious long-term consequences for parents, children, and their families.
In the UK, roughly one in five women have mental health problems during pregnancy or after giving birth, and two-thirds hide their symptoms or underplay their illness.
The pandemic was a considerable barrier; however, psychiatrists on the ground have argued it was not the sole reason that the mental health of thousands was overlooked. They have said that across England, variation in the available services means that many mums could not access tailored support.
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High standards of care should be available “to all women, no matter where they live”
NHS targets were broadly on track before the pandemic. In 2019, 30,625 women accessed services, against the prediction of 32,000 outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan. But compared to 2019, in 2020, of the 47,000 expected to access perinatal mental health services, only 31,261 managed to get help with problems such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and thoughts of self-harm.
Disruptions to care combined with the stresses and isolation of the pandemic have exacerbated poor mental health in new mothers and made it harder to diagnose and treat.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling on local health bosses to help address longstanding funding issues and for new investment in facilities in the following spending review, to put an end to the postcode lottery in perinatal mental health care.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, the registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who works in perinatal mental health, said: “Many women can develop mental health problems for the first-time during pregnancy and after birth, or are at risk of pre-existing illnesses made worse if they don’t get the right support in time.”
“Staff in perinatal mental healthcare have made every effort to support women in these extremely challenging times but services have been under unprecedented strain. Funding for mental health facilities is long overdue but is more urgent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Gaps in local funding in certain areas in England should be urgently addressed so that the same standard of care is available to all women, no matter where they live.”