The wellbeing of 70,000 new-born babies in England could be improved if all new mothers experiencing mental ill health had equal access to good services, an NSPCC report has claimed.
In 'All Babies Count: Spotlight on Perinatal Mental Health' the charity calls on health ministers to address "major gaps in access to mental health services for pregnant and new mums".
Evidence in the report suggests that the vast majority of maternal mental health problems such as anxiety and post-natal depression are preventable and treatable, and, with the right support, the negative effects on families can be avoided.
These conditions often begin or escalate when a woman is pregnant or in her child’s first year but there are currently worrying gaps in services for new mums across the UK.
The report describes how a lack of focus on mother’s mental health has led to a ‘postcode lottery’ for families. It highlights evidence that less than half of mental health trusts have specialist mental health services for expectant and new mums.
Shockingly deficient mental health services
The report's findings have been welcomed by Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, who described the currently level of specialist mental health services for expectant and new mums as shockingly deficient.
"Mental health problems in new parents can impact negatively on the child’s emotional wellbeing and we hope that this report will [help] bring about positive change to make mental health services accessible for all pregnant and new mums," he said.
"If we ignore the mental health of young mothers, many of whom are hardly out of childhood themselves, we are significantly increasing the risk of them, and their babies, developing serious emotional health problems both at the time and later in their lives."
Dr Ian Jones, vice-chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Perinatal Section, said: "Maternal mental health remains a neglected area but is of huge importance and has long-lasting impact on the woman herself, her family and wider society.
"This NSPCC report highlights the need for specialist perinatal mental health services and the postcode lottery that characterises current provision. We must work to give women and their families the care they require.”
Give maternal mental health same importance as physical health
The NSPCC is calling for a step change so that the mental health of mothers and babies is given the same importance as their physical health. It is also calling on the Department of Health to lead work to fill gaps in services, which could in turn save the lives of mothers and babies.
Previous research by the NSPCC has shown that more than 120,000 children under one are living with a parent who is experiencing mental ill health.
Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, concluded: "This report clearly shows that with the right services, it is possible to prevent the harm caused by maternal mental illness. If the Government is serious about giving every child the best start in life it must take action to fill the gaps in services."