Why we need UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week - Eve Canavan

The UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a campaign dedicated to talking about mental illness while pregnant or after having a baby.

The week is so important as around one in 10 women experience these issues and they can be very distressing at what is a vulnerable time.

There has also been increased mental health challenges for women during and after pregnancy as a result of the pandemic and lockdowns.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

In 2014, we, a small group of individuals including women with lived experience, came together with the dream of creating an awareness campaign for maternal mental health. We formed and created the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership (PMHP) and in 2017, we launched the first ever UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

Picture: PA.

The theme for this year’s Awareness Week is The Power of Connection which is about connecting communities with virtual and real life support.

Over the last six years, the week has provided a supportive platform where we reassure families and signpost them to vital resources and safe support which is what people need most at this time.

The pandemic saw demand increase for support from local charities who adjusted the delivery of support groups by offering them virtually.

There are still gaps across the UK where women are unable to get support from specialist Perinatal Mental Health Teams and there is a concern that referrals to existing services will increase beyond the pandemic.

Many people have heard of the term Postnatal Depression but there are a number of other illnesses that can affect women such as Antenatal Depression, which affects women in pregnancy.

Birth Trauma, which affects around 30,000 women a year, is when the experience of giving birth has been frightening.

Perinatal OCD is where people experience obsessions, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and compulsions.

And Postpartum Psychosis, a severe, but treatable, form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby.

Our energies for the week therefore are focused on ensuring parents feel well informed and supported at this time when anxieties are still heightened for so many and all the resources created and provided during the week will be available afterwards for people to pick up when they need it.

Women deserve to be able to access help quickly.

Having a baby is a life-changing and at times daunting experience and we must all work together to ensure, for the sake of both the mother and baby, that support is provided.

If you don’t feel like yourself while pregnant or after having a baby and are experiencing low mood, please reach out to your GP, health visitor or midwife. Please know it is okay to ask for support and it in no way means you are a bad parent.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and on antidepressants, please do not stop taking them until you have spoken to your GP, perinatal mental health team or psychiatrist.

Many medications are safe to take during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Some women worry that if they ask for help, their baby will be taken away from them.

Asking for help and getting the right treatment means you are doing the very best for both you and your baby.

Your baby will not be taken away from you – this only happens in very exceptional circumstances.

We know there is still a stigma attached to revealing that you aren’t enjoying parenthood, are experiencing frightening thoughts and feeling like you don’t love your baby.

However, you are not alone.

Each year, thousands of women experience these feelings and with the right treatment, make a full recovery.

It can seem like there is no way out of the feelings being experienced but we want to reassure people that this can happen to anyone – from any background and any age.

The 6th annual UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week started on Monday week and runs until Sunday May 8. For more information about the event and to find details about how the PMHP can help, visit www.perinatalmhpartnership.com

Eve Canavan BEM is Coordinator of UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week at the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership.