Recent reports have revealed that the NHS plans to increase the support available to pregnant women and new mothers with mental health problems.
The impact of motherhood on a women’s life is invariably significant and often not easy to adapt to. Hormonal changes and upset sleep patterns – especially when combined with an altered role in the family, reduced social activity, and the pressures of caring for an infant – can make this a difficult time for anyone. According to NICE statistics, up to 85% of mothers experience a feeling known as the ‘baby blues’ in the first few weeks following childbirth. But more seriously than this, studies suggest that 10-20% of mothers go on to develop post-natal depression, a mood disorder which typically involves feelings of hopelessness and being unable to cope with new demands, along with either extreme anxiety about, or a loss of interest in, the baby.
According to a BBC report dated 26 November 2016, the new NHS initiative aims to help 30,000 more women suffering with difficulties such as these by 2021. The initiative will consist of two strategies – the first involving more specialist psychiatric care in maternity wards; and the second promoting a buddy-scheme and telephone support from mothers who have experienced similar issues. The great advantage of the buddy-scheme, as highlighted by Elizabeth Duff, Senior Policy Advisor for the National Childbirth Trust, is that it may help to “break the stigma around perinatal mental health”. Rather than feeling in some way shameful or guilty about their experience of depression, it is hoped that mothers will feel more able to discuss their feelings and seek the necessary support.
The medium-to-long-term economic and social benefits of early intervention in maternal mental health were recently confirmed in a study by Annette Bauer and colleagues at the London School of Economics. For example, when taking account of future health and social care costs, education costs, criminal justice costs, and productivity losses (i.e. through future unemployment), it was found that a 12-session CBT course delivered to women struggling with depression during pregnancy saves an average of £8,456 in the long-run. In terms of personal life-fulfilment, this figure is a reflection of the decreased reliance of mother and child on health and social care, the decreased likelihood that the child will require specific educational adaptations to access the curriculum, the decreased likelihood that mother or child will enter the criminal justice system, and the increased probability that both will engage in paid employment. Overall, the evidence is clear that it is far better to address difficulties early than to hope they don’t develop.
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