Let Mum Speak - back a national database of maternal peer support services.
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At least one in ten mothers experiences post-natal depression (PND) according to research, and many more are suffering in silence. With suicide as the leading cause of maternal death, too many women are falling through the cracks as their physical and emotional needs go unmet. It is a disgrace in 2019 that women are treated this way; that their wishes around pregnancy, birth and post-natally are often ignored or brushed aside.
Peer support projects such as Mothers Uncovered can stop the development of PND in its tracks. PND doesn't just affect the mother, it affects her family – and it affects you.
When the mother’s needs are not met, nor are those of her family. The impact on children includes emotional difficulties, behavioural problems and special educational needs (i). PND has a detrimental impact on a partner's mental health, as well as causing financial problems (ii,iii). If you are reading this and thinking this doesn't concern you because you are not a mother, you are wrong. It does. You might not be a mother, but we all have, or had, a mother. This is a global concern.
You could well be thinking what will all this cost? Frankly, we can't afford NOT to take action. Inadequate maternal care costs the UK £8bn [iv] a year, with a comparatively modest £337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to close the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures?
Why does the problem exist? First, because women are not supported adequately around their birth, often seeing several different professionals during their pregnancy and labour. A traumatic birth can have a long-term impact on mental health. And once the baby is born, most women are signed off by their health visitor after ten days.
Second, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) from those with post-natal depression (perceived as a small proportion). The latter are usually treated with medication and specialist counselling. To access a PND group you need to be referred by your doctor or health visitor. There is a shaming stigma of ‘not coping’ and many women do not identify themselves as ‘depressed’. Most women have 'new motherhood syndrome' in which it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. It is imperative that this period, with its rollercoaster of emotions, is reclassified as normal rather than extreme.
Third, many women feel they have no one to talk to. Mothers know how lucky they are to be mothers, so repeatedly deny any of their own needs to the point when they are in a desperate state.There are many mum and baby groups, but they are usually informal drop-ins in which other mothers may appear to be coping much better. Courses in Children’s Centres can help, but these are usually run by a health professional, creating an ‘us and them’ atmosphere.
So what else is there?
In Brighton and Hove, there is Mothers Uncovered started in 2008 by Maggie Gordon-Walker , set up as a project for her registered charity Livestock . We have helped hundreds of women with our creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. The facilitators are past participants. As it says on our publicity: ‘We are not perfect mothers. We are going through it all too. In short, we are just like you.’ Participants quickly feel able to open up as they realise they are not the only ones struggling, they begin to feel less isolated and start to take ownership of their lives and decisions.
Of course it is essential to have the statutory services there; women are very grateful for the care that the NHS provides. However, a lot of women would never get to the stage of severe PND if the right support were there in the first place. If peer support services were given better prominence and were supported themselves, then the massive burden on the NHS would ease.
We believe it is essential that Mothers Uncovered (and groups like it) are present everywhere, but we need your support to prove it is needed. Like many small organisations, keeping afloat is sometimes a challenge. All that is required is a welcoming room and a facilitator to manage the sessions. And some tea and biscuits. The facilitators need a small amount of training and ongoing support, which can be provided by their peers. It’s not exactly the moon on a stick, is it?!
In order not to be costing the country £8bn every year, here is what’s needed.
1. Greater investment into specialist birth centres & training more midwives so women can feel supported rather than scared and alone.
2. Give the same weight to the postnatal as the antenatal period: More appointments with professionals, to include debriefing about the birth and identify potential depression. The term ‘new motherhood syndrome’ to be recognised as this period, when it is normal rather than extreme to experience powerful emotions.
3. A national database of maternal peer support services to be set up, that is accessible to health professionals and the public. Investment into groups such as Mothers Uncovered to build confidence and create a community. Less stigma in asking for help or castigating mothers as 'moaning'.
Show your support by signing. Remember, it is not just about mothers, it’s about everyone.
'The Secret Life of Mothers' written by Mothers Uncovered participants, is available to buy on Amazon The Secret Life of Mothers
Video from the book launch, featuring Caroline Lucas, MP Secret Life of Mothers book launch
Watch a video about Mothers Uncovered: https://vimeo.com/80274601
Maggie Gordon-Walker’s article about post-natal support http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/08/health-system-failing-new-mothers-postnatal-depression-nhs
A testimonial for Mothers Uncovered from a past participant : https://vimeo.com/85605834
We are gathering a list of peer support services. If you'd like to be added to this list, please mention this in the comments or contact Maggie via www.mothersuncovered.com or twitter @mothersuncoverd
i. Boath EH, Pryce AJ, Cox JL. Postnatal depression: The impact on the family. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology. 1998.
ii. Burke L. The impact of maternal depression on familial relationships. International Review of Psychiatry. 2003.
iii. Chew-Graham CA, Sharp D, Chamberlain E, Folkes L, Turner KM. Disclosure of symptoms of postnatal depression, the perspectives of health professionals & women. BMC Fam Pract. 2009.
iv. Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/20/mental-health-care-new-mothers-cost-study
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