Healthwatch calls on health professionals in Rochdale to make more space for new parents to talk about their mental health

Date published: 12 September 2019

Independent health and social care champion Healthwatch Rochdale is calling on local services to make more space for new parents in Rochdale to talk about their mental health.

A new report exploring the experiences of women with mental health problems during the journey to parenthood has found that many people are not experiencing the consistent support they should expect if services were following NHS guidelines.

The findings reflect what women in the Rochdale borough told Healthwatch Rochdale after the local health and social care champion investigated the issue last year.

Published on Monday (9 September) by Healthwatch England, the report – ‘Mental health and the journey to parenthood’ – focuses on a survey of 1,738 women. These women reported either having a mental health condition diagnosed by a doctor before, during or after having a baby or they said they had experienced a mental health problem which had not been diagnosed.

With the NHS committed to providing maternal mental health support for more than 30,000 extra women by 2020/21, the work undertaken by Healthwatch can help local services understand what’s working for new mothers and what isn’t.

Variable mental support for new parents

However, the national and local research also indicates that many women are not experiencing support that meets national NICE guidelines which set out what mothers should expect when it comes to the recognition, assessment and treatment of mental health problems during and after pregnancy.

Action needed to tackle fear and promote mental wellbeing

With one in four women experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy and the 24 months after birth, analysis of the stories women shared also highlights the need to provide more opportunities for new parents and health professionals to talk about mental health during the journey to parenthood.

Common themes highlighted by the experiences of women include:

  • The range of issues that can help contribute to mental health problems: Severe pregnancy sickness, the physical health of babies, a history of mental health problems, feelings of isolation and a lack of empathy from professionals can all play their part.
  • People don’t know where to turn for help: Despite the increased focus on NHS support for mental health, women told us about not being given enough information about the mental health support available and what to do if they need help.
  • Women feel scared about speaking up: Even though women know they are struggling with their mental health, factors such as fear that they will be judged as bad parents or healthcare staff attitudes can act as a barrier to seeking support.

Sharing her experience Kristy said: “I fell into this feeling of failure. I’ve failed to breastfeed. I’ve failed to have a girl. I’ve failed to create the perfect family. I didn’t recognise I was ill, I just thought I had failed, that the boys deserved a better mother, and I thought everything would be better once I was physically well. I was so ashamed to talk about how I was feeling, because we’re told how lucky we are to have a baby.”

“There needs to be more support for women who are pregnant and aren’t well. I started feeling so miserable when I was pregnant because I couldn’t enjoy it and no one understood. I didn’t know what obstetric cholestasis was until I got it and if I’d been able to reach out and get some support, it might have made it easier.”

Other national findings

When asked about the support they had received:

  • A third of women (33%) who had a diagnosed mental health condition said they were not given any advice about maternity and mental health at any point.
  • Nearly half (47%) of all women described getting support for their mental health as ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.
  • More than half of all women (58%) said they did not get a care plan that considered their maternity and mental health needs, while 36% reported not feeling involved in decisions about their care.
  • A third of all women (36%) rated the quality of mental health support given by health professionals (e.g. GPs, midwives and health visitors) as poor or very poor.

Commenting on the findings Imelda Redmond CBE, National Director of Healthwatch England, said: “It’s good to see that the NHS is investing in better mental health support for new mothers. While our research does highlight the positive impact that the right support can have, it also shows how much more needs to be done to make sure that all women get the right help, at the right time.

“People meet with a whole host of professionals before and after having a baby, and space must be made for them to talk about how they’re feeling. Parents must feel empowered to speak up and understand where to go for support so that they can manage any mental health problems they face, form strong bonds with baby and help lay the foundations for a healthy, happy life for all involved.”

Commenting on the report, Sally McIvor, Joint Director of Integrated Commissioning at NHS Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Clinical Commissioning Group and Rochdale Borough Council, said: "We're committed to delivering high quality mental health services for new parents in our borough and to support the mental health and wellbeing of local women during and after pregnancy, we have launched a local perinatal and infant mental health service to give them the help they need.

"We will be considering the findings of Healthwatch's national report and will draw on any local learnings to help shape mental health support for parents in our borough."

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