During and after pregnancy, women are at the most vulnerable stage in their lives for developing a mental health issue. Under extreme physical and mental stress, it is a vital time for women and surrounding friends and family to be aware of possible mental health issues. However, new research has found that women across the UK are being denied access to vital mental healthcare.
According to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), one quarter of pregnant women and new mothers do not have access to specialist support, which can lead to such devastating issues that they can even take their own life. The medical and childbirth campaigner group’s chair, Dr. Alain Gregoire, said ‘the lack of provision of perinatal mental health services in some parts of the UK is scandalous’. He told The Guardian:
‘These services help women who have been left severely disabled, who maybe cannot get out of bed or function normally, or who have been left suicidal, or at extremely high risk of taking their lives, as a result of mental health problems associated with pregnancy and the postnatal period,’
With 20% of women who give birth every year suffering from mental health problems relating to pregnancy or giving birth, according to NHS estimates, the group is warning how vital the services are. He continued, ’we should remember that suicide is a leading cause of death among women who are pregnant or who gave birth in the last year.’
The research, conducted alongside the Royal College of Psychiatrists, found that 62 of the 235 NHS health board or clinical commissioning group areas across the UK offer women zero help from dedicated perinatal personnel. The results of the study show women are again suffering from a postcode lottery when it comes to childbirth related care.
While the number of places offering zero support has decreased from 97 in 2015, the results still aren’t good enough for GP’s. ‘When women are pregnant, or just after birth, they are in the period of life when they are most likely to develop a mental health problem. Working as a GP, I have seen women struggle to find the care that they need, battle with feelings of guilt and search for a sympathetic ear,’ Labour MP and GP Dr. Paul Williams told The Guardian, ‘It is profoundly unfair that some women get excellent care whilst others aren’t even asked how they are feeling by health workers.'
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, seems to be claiming the increase as a victory, stating that Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said: ‘As recently as 2014, only 3% of the country had good access to perinatal mental health care, and as the MMHA itself acknowledges, services have since expanded significantly, as part of a £365m package of investment, which helped an additional 6,000 women access care in the past year alone.’
However, the fact that 26% of women still don’t have access to vital care is not good enough. It is hugely unfair that your level of healthcare and support depends on where you live. We can only hope that the new findings encourage greater investment in perinatal care to ensure all women have access to the mental health support they need.
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