Parents’ mental health issues could be missed due to pandemic

There could be a long-lasting impact on the future health, wellbeing and life chances of babies born during the pandemic, as parents face heightened stress, social isolation and mental health problems.

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Between April 2020 and January 2021 our helpline received 3,608 contacts from adults about parental mental health. The monthly average has increased by 44% compared with last year 1

Well before the pandemic, reductions in public health spending on early years and a significant decline in health visitors meant many families were not getting the help they need. Without the right support at the right time, mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year can have serious consequences for both children and families. Now we’re calling on the Government to prioritise parents and babies in the nation’s recovery. Join the fight with us. 

"A friend of mine has been struggling with depression ever since she gave birth to her son, who is now two years-old. I didn’t think anything of it at first, I assumed her depression was just a phase, but then I realised just how much it was impacting her life. “Some days she’s barely able to function, like she can barely get out of bed. What concerns me most is her little one is often left to fend for himself – her ex is long out of the picture and she doesn’t get any kind of support."
An adult who called our helpline

Social distancing measures have meant that many fathers and partners have been excluded from scans and many women have given birth without a partner or supporter present. As well as parents and babies being isolated from the support of family and friends over the past year, up to 50% of health visitors were redeployed away from supporting families in some areas during the first lockdown.2

This has had an unprecedented impact on pregnancy, child birth and the start of a child’s life. 

A survey undertaken during the pandemic by Parent-Infant Foundation, Best Beginnings and Home Start found:

  • 6 in 10 new parents shared significant concerns about their mental health because of the additional stress caused by COVID
  • a third of parents reported that interaction with their child had changed 
  • just over 1 in 10 parents of children under 2 saw a health visitor face-to-face. 3

Restricted access to these crucial services could result in mental health problems in pregnancy and the first year going under the radar of professionals, making it harder for parents to provide the care a baby needs to develop. 


Today, at our flagship How Safe conference (held online this year) we brought together a panel of guest speakers who discussed mental health in pregnancy and the child’s first year, the impact of the pandemic and our Fight for a Fair Start campaign which is calling for every family to get the help they need. 

Hosted by TV presenter Cherry Healey, the group included presenter and broadcaster Nush Cope, presenter of the BBC’s ‘The Baby Club’ Nigel Clarke, Dr. Brooke Vandermolen and Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation. 

The panel today discussed what it means to navigate one of life’s biggest challenges in the middle of a national health crisis and the vital importance of health visitors, as well as concerns about the long-lasting effect on babies and parents and what essential support is needed moving forwards. 

"I think this is something that really hasn’t been talked about enough until now. The pandemic has had such a massive impact on new parents and we are going to be seeing the repercussions for many years to come. From the start of pregnancy, a lot of my patients and the people I am seeing coming through the system feel unsupported, and if you feel unsupported from day one, then you don’t feel empowered to speak up when you have issues."
Dr. Brooke Vandermolen told the pane at How Safel

We need to fight for every baby to have a fair start in life

As Government plans for new national leadership of public health in England, it must use this opportunity to set out a new and ambitious plan to give every child the best start in life.

This means:

  • investing in local services that support parents during pregnancy and in the first year of a child’s life 
  • rebuilding the health visiting workforce to have the capacity to deliver five consistent face to face visits.

If the Government is to keep its promise to ‘level up’ opportunities across the country, investment should be focused in local areas where the need is greatest.

 

Fight for a Fair Start is supported by Jo Malone London who’ve also funded direct services to new and prospective parents, focusing on support with their mental health problems, to help them develop secure and healthy relationships with their children.

 

"Access to support for families and babies has long been inconsistent, but the pandemic has now thrown up even bigger challenges for parents. Now is the time for urgent action to ensure that health visitors are able to build up those vital relationships with parents and to refer families to quality services in the local area."
Vicky Nevin, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the NSPCC

What is perinatal mental health?

The perinatal period is that crucial time – during pregnancy and after birth - when parents are finding their feet and building bonds with their baby.

But this can also be a difficult time. Mums can experience perinatal mental health problems from antenatal and postnatal depression to anxiety and postpartum psychosis. Dads can also suffer mental health problems during this time, like depression and anxiety.

It can be difficult to look after yourself when you’re struggling – let alone a baby. Help us demand that parents get the support they need, wherever they live.

Get support if you or someone you know is struggling

We're here to support you, no matter your worry. Call us on 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk or fill in our online form

Some of our services are specially developed to help parents during pregnancy and after birth. Find out more about our working with families services, including how to get in touch with ones in your area.

We're working hard to ensure we're still here for children. Will you help us?

There are stories from around the UK

"I never knew if there was mental health support available for me as a dad back then [...] but I know I could have used more support. There needs to be resourcing and funds made available so this kind of support can be provided."
Callum, a dad in Northern Ireland

"I had no idea that you could experience scary thoughts about the baby and that it was called postnatal anxiety - I thought I was genuinely losing my mind."
Mum in Wales

"When my little boy was about two weeks old the visions started. […] When he was about 6 months old, I remember sitting on my bed with my back to him and I turned around and he was ‘possessed’ and staring at me. Really it was just my beautiful little boy looking at his mummy."
Janine, a mum in England

"I do feel that there is more out there to help women and families with what I went through but mental health is lacking in funding and understanding"
Mum in Wales

"During and after my first two pregnancies my mental health suffered desperately. All my health visitors were lovely but by necessity they had to rush."
Natalie, a mum in England

"I’d like to see professionals checking in on dads’ mental health and inclusion for dads at the start of their parenting journey and beyond."
Cahir, a dad in Northern Ireland

"I want people to know that these feelings don't last forever. That black cloud that created a storm in my life soon passed and perhaps could have passed even sooner if I had gotten the help I needed."
Tayah, a mum in England

"…. I believe that my ability to bond with my child has been affected & I fear this may have consequences later on."
Mum in Wales

"I left the hospital feeling such shame, embarrassment and worry. My fears of my baby being taken away turned into believing that my baby was going to die. […] I had to fight so hard to get anyone to listen to me."
Mum in Northern Ireland

"I was breaking down and I knew I needed help to cope but I was horrified to discover the mental health services I needed weren’t available in Northern Ireland."
Mum in Northern Ireland

"I had to fight to be listened to. I knew I had depression. They kept telling me it was baby blues but I knew it wasn’t. I felt fobbed off by my doctors when I went to them for help."
Mum in Wales

"I didn’t know what it was at the time, I just knew I couldn’t make myself move. I wanted to brush my teeth and do my hair, but I couldn’t. On the odd day, I’d manage but that was so rare. It was awful, like a dark cloud all around me."
Tayah, a mum in England

"All parents should have access to good perinatal mental health support."
Jen Baker, Specialist Health Visitor in England

"The majority of visits from care workers that followed our son’s birth were about checks on the baby. When these were done they’d say ‘Ok, see you in 4-6 weeks’ and off they’d go. If you’re never asked about your mental health as a parent, you don’t feel like you have the option to speak up and get help."
Gary, a dad in Northern Ireland

"Maybe if I’d had more visits, my Health Visitor could have picked up on how I was feeling. Likewise, maybe if I’d been pressed more I would have spoken out and how I was doing would have been noticed. The opportunity passed too quickly. "
Natalie, a mum in England

"Parents and children deserve the right support from appropriately trained health professionals who understand impact of illness on family; with appropriate support, impact of illness can be greatly reduced."
Mary Duggan, Specialist Health Visitor in Northern Ireland

"When I was going through this, I just felt completely worthless to my family and I felt like something was pulling me, a physical pull, to disappear into something dark."
Janine, a mum in England

"Timely and the right support is vital in helping mothers to enjoy their babies and laying the best possible foundations for not only their mental health, but especially that of their children."
Alice Gibson, Special Perinatal Health Visitor in England

"It helps to know why something like this is happening to you and that it will end. You shouldn’t feel ashamed."
Natalie, a mum in England


References

  1. Between 1 April 2020 and 31 January 2021, the NSPCC helpline received a monthly average of 361 child welfare contacts about parental mental health (3,608 contacts over the 10-month period). This is 44% higher than the monthly average of 250 child welfare contacts about parental mental health that the NSPCC helpline received the previous year (2,996 contacts over the 12-month period of 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020).

  2. Institute for Health Visiting, 2020 State-of-Health-Visiting-survey-2020-FINAL-VERSION-18.12.20.pdf