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Postnatal depression not being picked up by GPs

Many new mothers are afraid to talk to their GP about their mental health

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Nearly half (42%) of new mothers’ mental health problems did not get picked up by a doctor or other health professional, according to new research* by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).

The survey found half (50%) of mothers experienced mental health problems at some time during pregnancy or within the first year of their child’s birth. These can include postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis. 

The research also found that the six-week postnatal check-up is failing to pick up mental health issues in mothers.

Over a fifth (22%) of women who had the six-week check were not asked about their emotional wellbeing at all, and nearly 20% with an emotional or mental health problem did not feel able to disclose it in the check. 

Nearly half (43%) of those who didn’t disclose a problem said their doctor did not seem interested or sympathetic, a quarter (24%) said there wasn’t time and 46% were worried that health professionals would think they weren’t capable of looking after their baby. 

Sarah McMullen, head of knowledge at NCT, said: “It is shocking that so many new mothers aren’t getting the help they need which can have a devastating impact on the women and their families. Some mothers aren’t being open about how they’re feeling as they’re terrified they’re going to have their baby taken away and others are not being asked about their emotional wellbeing at all. A third of women said their six-week check was rushed and for some, it lasted only three minutes. 

“GPs are under incredible pressure so it’s no wonder that this crucial opportunity to uncover any mental health problems is being missed.” 

NCT wants more funding to be made available for the six-week check, so that GPs have the time to give every mother a full appointment, rather than having to squeeze it in with an examination of their baby. The charity is also calling for better maternal mental health training and guidance for doctors so they are better equipped to discuss emotional wellbeing with mothers. 

* The hidden half. Bringing postnatal mental illness out of hiding. National Childbirth Trust, 2017.

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