C: Slaven Orsolic / Scopio

Mental health service needs for new mums at ‘all time high’ after Covid lockdowns

Referrals to specialist perinatal mental-health services have hit an all-time high following covid restrictions at maternity units.

Therapists are seeing ‘a much higher incidence of birth trauma in both parents – not just mums – since Covid 19 restrictions were introduced.

The knock on effects of isolating mothers and fathers at a crucial time both physically and psychologically have prompted discussion in the UK.

“We know referrals to specialist perinatal mental-health services are at an all-time high, but we also know that as many as 70 per cent of women will hide or underplay their perinatal mental-health problems. This can obscure the true level of need and delay women from being identified, diagnosed and treated,” Laura Seebohm, chief executive of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance said.

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) is a coalition of UK organisations committed to improving the mental health and wellbeing of women and their children in pregnancy and the first postnatal year.

Seebohm said the last two years have placed “extraordinary pressures on new and expectant mums” and increased maternal mental health risk.

Perinatal and parent infant mental-health psychological therapist at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, Angela Wood said her organisation is seeing a ‘much higher incidence’ of birth trauma in both parents.

“Along with obstetric trauma (the physical kind), there is a greater report of psychological trauma.

“Parents who were separated during delivery due to Covid restrictions suffered by being alone and afraid for long periods of time, exacerbated by the fact that maternity teams have struggled to maintain staffing levels,” Ms Wood said.

“Partners had to leave their newborns soon after birth, some parents with Covid were isolated from each other, other parents were not able to visit neonatal units together, those going through surrogacy had to cope with being separated from their birthing parent … and the list goes on.

“This has been traumatic for many parents and for some stirred up past traumas they have been through when they have felt alone, unsupported and perhaps unsafe,” Wood said.
Amy Gibbs, chief executive of Birthrights <http://birthrights.org.uk>  said restricting a woman’s choices around birth often results in ‘trauma.’

“Restriction in choices about where, how and with whom one chooses to give birth often results in lasting impact and trauma,” she said.

Here in Ireland, demand for mental health services at the Rotunda during Covid 19 were described by the hospital as ‘huge.’

“The current services in place in the Rotunda Hospital are being absorbed by the huge demand that we have seen in the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic. This increased demand is not only specific to the Rotunda, with mental health professionals across all disciplines continuing to experience increased presentations,” Dr Richard Duffy, Perinatal Psychiatrist in the Rotunda Hospital, said.

“To ensure that we can fully support women and their mental health during pregnancy and postnatally, the existing posts need to be filled, additional services need to be funded especially in peripheral maternity centres and a dedicated Mother and Baby unit needs to be opened.

“This unit would allow mothers to stay with their babies, usually in the same room, during the necessary time of their treatment. There are currently more than 20 units like this in the UK. At present, maternity units in Ireland do not have the capacity or facilities to enable new mothers to access treatment alongside their baby, which can have negative impacts on recovery,” he said.

Meanwhile, home visits all but ceased due to restrictions, with a total of 21 visits taking place throughout the year 2021.

“During the Covid pandemic the specialist perinatal mental health services relied extensively on telemedicine, this has included moving groups online and enhanced online supports,” the Rotunda said in a statement.

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