‘Outdated stigma’ preventing parents from seeking life-saving mental health support

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) recently released new finding about the mental health support parents get after the birth of their child.

Nurses and midwives are calling for greater awareness of mental health during and after pregnancy as a new survey reveals that new parents are experiencing depression or anxiety without professional support because they feel too afraid to seek help.

The survey of 2,000 new mothers and fathers found that 41 per cent experienced anxiety, depression or another mental health issue during or after the pregnancy of their first child. Less than half (46%) of these considered seeking help from a health care professional. The majority relied on their partner or other relatives for support. 26 per cent of those who didn’t seek professional support explained that they were ‘too afraid.’

Life-saving support

The findings suggest that many parents are missing out on potentially life-saving support because of an ongoing stigma around mental illness.

Of those who did not seek professional support, 11 per cent did not know that support was available from health care staff.

The survey also reveals that 27 per cent of fathers experienced depression or anxiety during or after the pregnancy, revealing an area of mental health which is less well understood. Men are less likely than women to seek support, but 64 per cent of fathers were not asked about their mental health at all during their partner’s pregnancy, meaning many will be suffering without any support.

Stigma

Carmel Bagness, Professional Lead for Midwifery and Women’s Health at the RCN said: “There is still a stigma around mental health which must be addressed, but this stigma is even more pervasive when it comes to parents.

“Too many parents worry that going through depression or anxiety means they will be deemed unfit parents, and this can be a hugely damaging – and incorrect – assumption which is putting lives at risk and preventing people getting the support they deserve.

“All health care staff should be aware of the importance of the mental health of mothers and fathers. Employers should provide training to ensure that every member of staff knows how to talk about these issues with parents, and how to encourage parents to be open about their mental health.

“Too many women and men are suffering in silence because of outdated stigmas. Too often, attitudes towards mental health are not fit for the 21st Century.

“Midwives and nurses know how important openness and understanding is when it comes to mental health. Their employers should now ensure they have the training, and the time, to treat the mental health of mothers and fathers as well as they treat their physical health.”

More training

Clare Dolman, Acting Vice Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “The Maternal Mental Health Alliance wholeheartedly endorses the RCN’s call for more training to combat the stigma towards new parents who experience mental health difficulties.

"As a mother who experienced mental illness after the birth of my daughter, I am very aware of how frightening and isolating an experience it can be - and how much it can affect fathers too.

“I have met many women in a similar situation and the vast majority of them recover very well and are excellent parents, but they need the understanding and support of all those around them: not just family and friends but health professionals too.”

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