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What is perinatal mental health?

Perinatal mental health issues refer to emotional and psychological wellbeing during pregnancy and up to a year following the birth of a child. There is also evidence that parents can suffer from perinatal mental illness for up to three years after the birth of their child. According to NHS England perinatal mental illness affects up to 20% of new and expectant mums in the UK.

 

Becoming a new parent is supposed to be one of life’s great joys. We’re told it should be a happy time where new parents feel nothing but love for their babies. But that isn’t always the case. Becoming a parent can also be scary, terrifying, and sad. This is especially true now, with so much of the new parent experience altered by COVID-19.

 

Benenden Health has partnered with parenting community Netmums and perinatal mental health charity PANDAS to carry out research exploring perinatal mental health. We have also provided help and advice on this page to support those who think they may be suffering from poor perinatal mental health.

What is perinatal mental health?

According to NHS England perinatal mental health problems can occur at any point between becoming pregnant and up to one year after your child is born. However, evidence from PANDAS suggests perinatal mental illness can see parents suffering for up to three years after birth. Pregnancy and birth are big milestones in the lives of parents so mixed emotions are common, but if you find the way you feel starts to impact your life every day, you could be suffering from perinatal mental illness.

How long can perinatal mental health last?

Perinatal mental ill health is experienced during pregnancy or up to one year after your child is born. There is also evidence to suggest perinatal mental illness can see parents suffering for up to three years after birth.

What are the symptoms of perinatal mental health?

Symptoms of perinatal ill health include:

  • Anxiety

  • Feeling low and not enjoying your pregnancy

  • Loss of self-confidence

  • Avoiding socialising

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Lack of energy

How can perinatal mental health be treated?

First and foremost, it’s important to be open and honest. Not only with yourself, but also with your family and clinical care team as looking after your mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after your physical health.

The Government are supporting the expansion of specialist community perinatal mental health teams who will be able to advise and support pregnant mothers and their partners. For those with existing mental health concerns, pre-conception counselling and support is advised. During the perinatal period using psychological therapies is a great way to support mental wellbeing.  Medication can also be used but this is closely monitored by the clinical team to support both you and the baby.   

Does perinatal mental health just affect mums?

Some studies have shown that partners can also suffer from a decrease in their mental wellbeing with impact heightening around the time of the child’s birth. Issues can be more prevalent for those who don’t have support networks in place, have additional life stressors, poor quality of living arrangements or experienced childhood abuse. It’s as important for the partner as it is for the mum to acknowledge and seek support for any mental wellbeing concerns as early as possible. 

Parents suffering in silence as only a fifth seek medical support for perinatal mental illness

In September 2020, we surveyed 1,368 UK parents about their experience of suffering from perinatal mental health. Here’s what they had to say:

30% of parents are struggling with perinatal mental illness

 

 

One in five parents say their experience of perinatal mental health has put them off having more children

Of those who have sought help for perinatal mental illness, only 20% have spoken to their GP

 

Only a tenth or parents feel there is sufficient support available for those suffering with perinatal mental illness

Perinatal mental health survey
Expectant mothers excercising in swimming pool

If you think you might be suffering from perinatal mental health problems, we advise you speak to your clinical support team, GP, midwife or obstetrician. They will be able to offer ongoing support, monitoring for the family unit and provide escalation strategies should things deteriorate.

NHS perinatal mental health support
Mental health helpline

If you’re a Benenden Health member you can access mental health support whenever you need it with our 24/7 mental health helpline. You’ll be put straight through to a qualified counsellor who can provide immediate emotional support and signposting for perinatal mental health problems.

Mental health helpline
PANDAS Logo

Perinatal mental health charity PANDAS is a community offering peer-to-peer support for you, your family, and your network. From volunteer-run phone lines and email support to social media and Facebook groups, PANDAS aim to make sure no parent, family or carer feels alone.

PANDAS website

 

For help and advice on managing your mental health before, during and after pregnancy take a look at some of our useful articles.

Baby crying

Up to one in five women experience mental health problems in pregnancy or the first year after childbirth. But do you know what to look out for and how to get help?

Young parents having a mug of tea

It’s common for women and partners to experience mental ill health any time from becoming pregnant to a year and longer after giving birth. Here we share self-care techniques that you can use to look after yourself.

Mothers laughing in park

We discuss the six most common mental illnesses during pregnancy and after birth, and share how you can manage the symptoms.

PANDAS logo

PANDAS, a community offering peer-to-peer support for you, your family and your network give their perspective on the causes of perinatal mental health and how you can get support.

pregnant woman at work

Having children for the first time is a monumental event in somebody’s life, and as amazing and magical as it can be, the reality is that it brings some huge challenges too. Here’s how to support your employees through it.

Pregnant mother playing with two young children

Research commissioned by Benenden Health found that 58% of parents whose mental wellbeing has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 pandemic said balancing working from home and childcare was having an impact.