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New mums with mental illness and babies missing vital support

Report calls on Health Ministers to address gaps in mental health services for pregnant women and
new mothers

17 June 2013

The wellbeing of more than one in 10 newborn* babies in England could be improved if all new mothers with mental illness had equal access to good services, an NSPCC report** reveals today.

Mental health problems - including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia - can begin or escalate when a woman is pregnant or in her child's first year.

They can have a damaging effect on family life, and in the worst cases, impact on babies' health and welfare.

Evidence shows that the vast majority of these illnesses are preventable and treatable, and with the right support, the negative effects on families can be avoided.

There are many examples of excellent services that are working hard to ensure mums, dads and babies get the support they need.

But in some areas, commissioners are not giving mums' mental health the priority it deserves, meaning mums and babies miss out on vital support.

New research by the NSPCC shows there are worrying gaps in services. The
'All Babies Count: Spotlight on perinatal mental health' report describes how a lack of focus on mother's mental health has led to a 'postcode lottery' for families.

It highlights evidence that less than half of mental health trusts have specialist mental health services for expectant and new mums.

There are great examples of Mother and Baby Units which are providing mums and their families with expert intensive care and support.

But in huge areas of the country women have no access to a Unit. In these places some mothers don't get the right help and can be separated from their babies, which is traumatic for the whole family.

We calling for a step change so that the mental health of mothers and babies is given the same importance as their physical health.

We are also calling on the Department of Health to lead work to fill gaps in services, which could in turn save the lives of mothers and babies.

Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said:
"This report clearly shows that with the right services, it is possible to prevent the harm caused by maternal mental illness. But opportunities to help many more families are being missed.

"We have to start treating the mental health of mums and babies with the same importance as their physical health.

"Pregnancy and the first months of a child's life are critical for their future wellbeing and parents naturally play a vital role. If the Government is serious about giving every child the best start in life it must take action to fill the gaps in services."

Dr Ian Jones, Vice-Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Perinatal Section, said:
"Maternal mental health remains a neglected area but is of huge importance and has long-lasting impact on the woman herself, her family and wider society.

"This NSPCC report highlights the need for specialist perinatal mental health services and the postcode lottery that characterises current provision. We must work to give women and their families the care they require."

Previous research by the NSPCC has shown that over 120,000 under ones are living with a parent who has a mental health problem. Many of these cope but there is a risk that the children of those who don't get the right support will suffer long-term effects.

We are running a range of services in locations across the UK to support new mothers, including services working with mothers with mental health issues.

Read the All Babies Count: Spotlight on perinatal mental health report

Find out more about the All Babies Count campaign


Ends

Notes to editors

*Around  70,000 newborns. Based on Office for National Statistics birth figures (2011).

** Prevention in mind - All Babies Count: Spotlight on Perinatal Mental Health (2013)

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