At least one in ten mothers in Britain experiences post-natal depression (PND) according to research, and many more are suffering in silence. Too many women are falling through the cracks in maternal healthcare as their physical and emotional needs go unmet. Peer support projects such as Mothers Uncovered can stop the development of PND in its tracks.
PND doesn't just affect the mother, it affects her family – and it affects you.
When the mother’s needs are not met, nor are those of her family. The impacts of perinatal mental health problems on children include emotional difficulties, behavioural problems and special educational needs (i). Postnatal depression has been associated with an increase in family conflict and has a detrimental impact on a partner's mental health, as well as causing financial problems (ii,iii). You may think if you’re not a parent, this doesn’t affect you. It does. You might not be a mother, but we all have, or had, a mother and your upbringing may affect you more than you realise.
You could well be thinking what will all this cost? Frankly, we can't afford NOT to take action. Inadequate maternal care costs the UK £8bn [iv] a year, with a comparatively modest £337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to close the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures?
Why does the problem exist? First, because women are not supported adequately around their birth, often seeing several different professionals during their pregnancy and labour. A traumatic birth can have a long-term impact on mental health. And once the baby is born, most women are signed off by their health visitor after ten days and left to get on with it.
Second, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) from those with post-natal depression (perceived as a small proportion). The latter are usually treated with medication and specialist counselling. To access a PND group you need to be referred by your doctor or health visitor. There is a shaming stigma of ‘not coping’ and many women do not identify themselves as ‘depressed’. Most women have 'new motherhood syndrome' in which it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. It is imperative that this period, with its rollercoaster of emotions, is reclassified as normal rather than extreme.
Third, many women feel they have no one to talk to. There are many mum and baby groups, but they are usually informal drop-ins in which other mothers may appear to be coping much better. Courses run in children’s centres for new parents can help, but these are usually run by a health professional, creating an ‘us and them’ atmosphere.
So what else is there?
In Brighton and Hove, there is Mothers Uncovered started in 2008 by Maggie Gordon-Walker , set up as a project for registered charity Livestock which she is co-founder of. We have helped hundreds of women with our creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. Women meet weekly for five weeks in the same group, facilitated by mothers who are past participants. As it says on our publicity: ‘We are not perfect mothers. We certainly don’t want to tell you how to be mothers. We are going through it all too. In short, we are just like you.’
Participants quickly feel able to open up as they realise they are not the only ones struggling, they begin to feel less isolated and start to take ownership of their lives and decisions.
Of course it is essential to have the statutory services there, women are very grateful for the care that the NHS provides. However, a lot of women would never get to the stage of severe PND if the right support were there in the first place. If peer support services were given better prominence and were supported themselves, then the massive burden on the NHS would ease.
We believe it is essential that Mothers Uncovered (and groups like it) are present everywhere, but we need your support to prove it is needed. Like many small organisations, keeping afloat is sometimes a challenge. All that is required is a welcoming room and a facilitator to manage the sessions. And some tea and biscuits. The facilitators need a small amount of training and ongoing support, which can be provided by their peers. It’s not exactly the moon on a stick, is it?!
In order not to be costing the country £8bn every year, here is what’s needed.
1. Greater investment into specialist birth centres and training more midwives so that woman can feel supported rather than scared and alone.
2. The term ‘new motherhood syndrome’ to be recognised as the period after birth, when it is normal rather than extreme to experience powerful emotions.
3. Give the same weight to the postnatal period as the antenatal period: More appointments with professionals, to include debriefing about the birth and identify potential depression.
4. Investment into peer support groups such as Mothers Uncovered to build confidence and create a community.
Show your support by signing. Remember, it is not just about mothers, it’s about everyone.
Watch a video about Mothers Uncovered: https://vimeo.com/80274601
Maggie Gordon-Walker’s article about post-natal support http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/08/health-system-failing-new-mothers-postnatal-depression-nhs
A testimonial for Mothers Uncovered from a past participant : https://vimeo.com/85605834
We would also like to highlight the work of other excellent organisations/services/groups & individuals working in this area. If you'd like to be added to this list, please mention this in the comments or contact Maggie via www.mothersuncovered.com or twitter @mothersuncoverd
1. Open House - Nottingham Open House (OH) was founded by a group of Mums in early 2012 with the aim of supporting those who are or have been affected by any psychological and emotional condition which has developed during pregnancy or during the postnatal period. Nottingham
2.Mamaheaven Specially tailored yoga retreats for mothers and babies under 18 months old. Sussex.
3. Atomised Mothers film A short film about isolation, 'austerity', and the politics of parenthood by Michal Nahman, an anthropologist and mother of two. Bristol.
4. Riga Forbes supports groups of women during pregnancy, through Birth Vision courses for birth-preparation. East Sussex.
5. Butterflies PND support PND support group. Also support with birth trauma. Using mindfulness & yoga as healing tools plus Well Woman yoga for healing pelvic floor issues. Watford.
6. Cocoon Family Support Support for families affected by postnatal depression in north west London.
7. Lotus Petal PND Peer Support & Advice For Parents Suffering From Pre & Postnatal Mental Illness, Essex
8. SPIN Brighton Information network for single parents providing regular emails to members & support, advice, opportunities for meetups & events. Brighton & Hove
9.Poynton PANDAS Poynton PANDAS Support Group is here for parents suffering pre and postnatal depression.Poynton
10.Pregnancy Sickness Support is the only UK based charity supporting women with this condition. In its extreme form it is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Coventry.
11.Mums Aid A non-profit organisation providing free counselling for women experiencing mental health problems or emotional difficulties during pregnancy or postnatally. Greenwich, London.
12. Mothertime Claire Arnold-Baker - psychotherapist specialising in new mothers, offering individual sessions and groups, Reading.
13. Story of Mum Community to let go of guilt and rediscover yourself in motherhood. Sharing our gloss-free stories and carving out vital creative time for YOU. Cornwall
i. Boath EH, Pryce AJ, Cox JL. Postnatal depression: The impact on the family. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology. 1998;16(2-3):199-203.
ii. Burke L. The impact of maternal depression on familial relationships. International Review of Psychiatry. 2003;15(3):243-55.
iii. Chew-Graham CA, Sharp D, Chamberlain E, Folkes L, Turner KM. Disclosure of symptoms of postnatal depression, the perspectives of health professionals and women: a qualitative study. BMC Fam Pract. 2009;10:9.
iv. Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/20/mental-health-care-new-mothers-cost-study