An online survey of 1800 UK parents by YouGov and BBC Radio 5 Live has revealed that more mothers than previously thought could be experiencing mental health problems- NHS England previously estimated that one in five mothers suffer from a mental health issue during pregnancy or after birth, but this more recent poll suggests that the figure could be closer to one in three. That’s 30 per cent of all mums dealing with postpartum depression , anxiety , PTSD, extreme stress or even postpartum psychosis, just to put a finer point on it. In contrast, just 17 per cent of fathers report similar symptoms.
Not only are today’s mums dealing with difficulties as regards mental health, but a contributing factor could well be the disproportionate amount of pressure placed on mums from external sources. 30 per cent of mothers reported feeling discriminated against at work, compared to 14 per cent of fathers, and increased levels of complaints on the matter to the Citizens Advice Bureau, not to mention the shocking stories revealed by way of movements such as Pregnant Then Screwed , reveal that the pay gap and sexual harassment in the workplace clearly aren’t the only societal and professional scandals rocking the supposedly more equal and enlightened times in which we live.
To add to the strain, while parents in general often feel that their parenting is criticised by others, 14 per cent of mothers had been berated by strangers, compared to five per cent of fathers. Mothers reported that their parents were the most likely to pass judgement on their parenting (26 per cent), with 24 per cent of mothers feeling criticised by their partner and 18 per cent relaying disparaging comments from other relatives.
It’s not hard to see why a mental health issue might spiral in such a pressure cooker environment, and while the government has pledged an expansion of inpatient and community services for new and expectant mothers suffering with mental health problems , improvements aren’t likely to hit the ground until late 2018/ early 2019 for the majority of mothers. For the time being, most mums seek emotional support from friends (60 per cent), with 56 per cent turning to their partner and 18 per cent seeking help in online forums.
While 15 per cent of parents reported receiving no emotional support at all, the positive takeaway is that two thirds of mothers affected by a mental issue sought professional support. Developments and investment in maternal mental health care are promising, but it’s high time that employers and society as a whole got behind new and expectant mothers, rather than standing in their way when life is quite frankly hard enough already. The more noise we make about the issues and often almost impossible choices facing modern mothers, the better.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from a mental health issue in parenthood, seek advice and find your local support group at The Panda Foundation
Join the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign, share your story or volunteer here