Did you know that six weeks into motherhood, new mums should receive a mental health check? At the end of your six-week perinatal visit, your midwife should check on you as well as the baby. Well, there’s a high chance that you are a young mother who was hastily questioned in a fluster towards the end of a visitation or simply not asked at all.
But after announcements and effort put in by the government about paying more attention to this issue why is it still not working? If you are a new mum struggling emotionally and/or mentally how can you seek out the help that you need?
The announcement of mental health checks for new mums
According to NHS UK, 1 in 10 mums suffers from PND. This figure is likely higher following the pandemic too, but this issue was being addressed in the past.
In 2018, the NHS introduced a brilliantly progressive introduction to mental health checks for new mums. The idea being that 6-weeks after you have had your baby, your midwife should take time to check on your mental and emotional well-being.
This is a super important step forward in trying to tackle PND. The sooner that PND is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated! If someone can pick up on signs of PND at 6 weeks, then support and help can be put in place quickly.
Support for partners too?
In December of 2018. NHS England announced that new and expectant fathers would also be offered medical health checks. Yup. Dads suffering from PND, you were noticed too!
With growing figures of 1 in 10 new or expectant dads to be having symptoms of anxiety and depression, this was yet another issue that needed addressing. And, with this, they were offering treatments such as peer support, behavioural couples therapy sessions and other family interventions.
2018 marked a period where mental health in new parents was being addressed. It appeared that the issue was being taken seriously, and with an aim to reduce the figures, things were looking a little brighter for those suffering with PND.
What’s happened to the mental health checks for new mums?
Unfortunately, mental health checks have taken a dip from how highly they were prioritised on the agenda. Warning: here comes the numbers bit!
A high percentage of new mothers (85% according to an NCT survey released April of 2021) say the focus on appointments has been mostly on their babies. (That’s up 45% from 2019!). 60% said their check has been rushed at the end of their visit. And, 25% of parents from this 2021 figure said that they were not being asked about their mental health at all. This lead to a lot of young parents feeling rejected, ignored, and placed on a back-burner, where they are potentially left!
We asked mums in our community about their experiences with the 6-week mental health check-in’s. Here are a few things they said:
‘My doctor refused to do any 6-wk check for me or my baby… I had to make appointments and ‘fight’ to be seen.’
‘Mine was cancelled at 8 weeks. They have said it will be 10 weeks.’
‘They didn’t care at all about me considering I had a difficult labour and were in hospital for a week.’
‘My little one is 1 on Sunday and I have no check up and have never seen or heard (from them)…’
‘I asked for one and was refused.’
These responses, heart-breaking they may be, are not difficult to get your head around following the pandemic. And, as a quick reminder, we cannot shift blame to our midwives right now. Over 2020 and 2021, all NHS staff has seen a colossal amount of strain and is doing their best. We have to keep that in mind when looking at this drastic incline. But, still, we can’t ignore the fact that there are mothers who have truly suffered during the pandemic.
What’s the response?
The issue has clearly become an intimidatingly big issue through the duration of Coronavirus. But, thankfully, it has not gone under the radar of the government and the NHS.
Following these results, the NHS responded by saying they would start opening “Mental health hubs” for new, expectant and bereaved mothers.
This is a long term plan, stating ‘ten sites will be up and running within months’ and ‘every area will have one by April 2024’. As well as offering ‘psychological therapies’ these hubs will provide appropriate training for maternity staff and midwives. This, in time, means parents going through a tough time will receive the mental health support they need.
So, that means we have good news in the long run! NHS has got a long term plan in place for trying to resolve this problem (We are being heard, thank you NHS!). But what about those currently suffering? We have a 3-year waiting period between here and 2024. New mums will still be suffering from their mental health. So, what should they do?
How do I ensure I get a mental health check as a new mum?
If you are in a strong enough mindset, then it would seem that the answer is to just push. These checks are important and if you think you have it in you to fight for it, then armour up and hit the battle stations! Either contact your GP or tell your midwife that you need it to be made more of a priority. And if it doesn’t happen immediately, keep pushing! Want to take it further? Maybe it’s a good time to start a petition to get the issue raised in parliament.
But, not everyone always feels capable or able to push when in that grey-cloud headspace.
We can offer a few tips on how to manage anxiety in the moment if you are severely suffering. These are a good short-term relief if you feel at the end of your tether.
If you feel like you might know someone who understands what you’re going through, it’s a good idea to reach out to them! Whether they’re parents themselves or you know they potentially suffer from their mental health. It’s very likely they will make for a good shoulder to lean on.
However, if what you’re feeling is quite severe, we have some more information on support for PND here. There are some brilliant charities that you can call (PANDAS and MumsAid just to list a couple). They specialise in specifically helping parents suffering mentally. If you feel that you might be in danger, your best option will be to call 999 or call the Samaritans.
Regardless of how it may feel at times, there are people out there willing to listen. There are people who know how to help. Please, reach out to someone, because it can get better.