Mental health in pregnancy

Between 10-15% of all pregnant women suffer with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, yet data suggests that disorders in pregnancy may not be diagnosed until the postnatal period, or even at all. To encourage these women to seek help, Tommy’s, the UK leading baby charity, recently launched a thought-provoking video about mental health in pregnancy.

The video, named Talk to someone, follows the story of a pregnant woman who exemplifies the real-life experiences of anxiety and depression felt by many women during pregnancy and early motherhood.

Tommy’s wants to see mental health treated on parity with physical health in pregnancy and urges women to look for help if they feel upset more than they feel happy.

Around 11% of women experience depressive symptoms in pregnancy, and around 5% have a major depressive disorder. Anxiety disorders in the perinatal period are also common, affecting around 13% of women. Although rates do not differ between pregnant and non-pregnant women, it has been suggested that identification and treatment are lower in pregnancy. The data also suggests that in a third of cases, ‘postnatal’ depression actually starts during the pregnancy but it is often not recognised or treated at this point.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety include feeling sad, hopeless, tearful, irritable and losing interest in things previously enjoyed. Some of these are also common symptoms of pregnancy which can make it difficult to identify a more serious problem. Persistent feelings that last beyond a couple of weeks should be checked out by a health professional such as the midwife, GP or health visitor.

Professor Louise Howard, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Professor of Women’s Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London says: “There is the expectation that a woman’s experience of pregnancy should always be joyous, but the truth is that pregnant women often put emotional and mental pressure on themselves to feel happy all the time. It is important for pregnant women not to feel embarrassed or guilty about experiencing the emotions they didn’t expect during pregnancy. They deserve compassionate support and should speak to a midwife, health visitor or GP for professional advice.”

Theresa, 28, from Weymouth, and her partner were going through a lot of life changes when she fell pregnant and the combination of change and pregnancy hormones triggered a spell of depression: “Soon after I got pregnant, I started to cry all the time. People would say to me that I was crying over nothing, but actually I was crying over everything, all the time. I had everything I wanted and yet I was upset and angry. I kept it all in, and then at my midwife appointment she casually asked me how I was coping and I just burst into tears. She referred me to my GP, who suggested I go for counselling, which was massively helpful. My father had died a couple of years ago and my counsellor suggested that I hadn’t grieved properly for that, she helped me go back and address lots of things.”

Tommy’s has developed information for women around mental health in pregnancy, including advice on when you should look for help.


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