Doctors miss half of new mothers’ mental health problems

by Jane McGuire |
Published on

According to new research from NCT, nearly half (42%) of new mothers’ mental health problems did not get picked up by a doctor or other health professional.

The study also found half of mothers experienced mental health problems at some point, either during their pregnancy or within the first five years of their child’s life. These included postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis.

The research also highlighted how the six-week postnatal check-up failed to pick up the mental health issues. This is a vital opportunity to check on the physical and mental health of the new mother, as well as her baby, yet over a fifth of women said they were not asked about their emotional wellbeing at all.

Nearly 20% of mothers who did feel like they were suffering with an emotional or mental health problem did not feel like they could talk about it to their doctor.

Perhaps more worryingly, nearly 20% of mothers who did feel like they were suffering with an emotional or mental health problem did not feel like they could talk about it to their doctor. Nearly half of these new mothers said their doctor didn’t seem interested or sympathetic, a quarter said there wasn’t time, and 46% were worried that health professionals would think they weren’t capable of looking after their baby.

Sarah McMullen, Head of Knowledge at NCT said: “It is shocking that so many new mothers aren’t getting the help they need which can have a devastating impact on the women and their families. Some mothers aren’t being open about how they’re feeling as they’re terrified they’re going to have their baby taken away and others are not being asked about their emotional wellbeing at all. A third of women said their six-week check was rushed and for some, it only lasted three minutes.”

The NCT recommends more funding is made available for the six-week check so GPs have time to give every new mother a full appointment. If you want to sign up to their Hidden half campaign, or find out more, go to their website.

Postnatal depressions: What are the warning signs to look for

It’s thought that around one in seven new mums experience postnatal depression after giving birth, but what are the signs to look out for?

Firstly, it’s important not to get postnatal depression confused with the baby-blues, which is very common and usually occurs three to five days after giving birth. You’ll suddenly feel tearful, irritable and exhausted – a common result of hormones, tiredness and overwhelming new feelings of being responsible for your tiny new arrival. However, if these feelings last more than a week, it could be something worth talking to your GP about.

The symptoms of postnatal depression vary from person to person, but the common ones to look out for are as follows:

  • A low mood: The feelings of sadness or irritability have persisted and you still don’t feel any better after a week or two after giving birth.

  • Apathy: You’ve lost interest in the world around you and are finding it hard to even find the motivation to get out of bed. You don’t want to admit it, but you don’t enjoy spending time with your baby. If this is you, do not worry, you are not a terrible mother and you will recover and start to love motherhood.

  • Sleep problems: You know you’re meant to sleep when your baby sleeps, but even when your partner is watching your little one you can’t rest or wake up frequently. You have a constant feeling of tiredness or fatigue.

  • Lack of confidence: You feel constantly anxious, even when health professionals tell you your baby is happy and thriving.

  • Appetite: You’ve lost your appetite and all interest in food.

  • Frightening thoughts: You’ve had horrible thoughts about harming yourself or your baby and feel incredibly scared and alone. Remember, these do not make you a bad mother, but you need to seek help in order to start feeling better.

I think I’ve got postnatal depression, what do I do?

From your GP, to dedicated phone lines, you are not alone. Do not be ashamed and do not stay silent. Whether it’s your sister, your GP at your six-week check or one of the amazing support groups or charities out there, do not suffer in silence.

Find more information on postnatal depression or where to go for more support here.

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