Pregnant mothers and new parents are struggling to access mental health support when they need it most, according to new research.
The survey by the perinatal mental health charity PANDAS Foundation found that more than one in four felt their concerns were not taken seriously by the NHS, with two in five saying they had to wait too long to receive help.
And the problem has only been made worse by the pandemic, with the health service under intense pressure.
Head of the charity, Annie Belasco, said demand for its support is 70% higher than before the first lockdown.
“Lots of parents plan on having babies and they have a key kind of vision of what that would look like, but due to lockdown restrictions, and the pandemic itself, that journey has been very, very different, which has impacted on parents’ mental health before they’ve even had a baby,” she said.
“After having the baby, their mental health has been affected by not being able to go out, not being able to celebrate their new baby with family and friends.”
When Daria Charlesworth was five months pregnant, she fell dangerously ill with the bacterial infection listeria.
The next four months were full of anxiety after being told there was a strong chance she’d lose her baby.
But it was after Luke was born that she really struggled.
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“I felt really, really low and apart from a handful of very close people to me, I kept getting answers such as, you know, you should feel grateful – your son is alive, your son is well, you got pregnant in the first place,” she said.
“I just basically needed some reassurance that I’m actually going to be fine and that I was not alone in what I was going through.”
She was given antidepressants and directed towards an online self-help programme but felt the depth of her depression was dismissed.
It was only when she found PANDAS online when Luke was six months old that things really began to improve.
A month later, she began volunteering for the charity.
“I really, really wanted to help other parents just because I knew how lonely I felt… and I was determined for other parents to feel like there actually is someone who can listen to them,” she said.
The survey of more than 1,000 people has been published to coincide with Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.
In a statement, an NHS spokesperson said: “While the pandemic has obviously had a knock-on effect, every part of the country now has access to a specialist perinatal mental health service and as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, at least 66,000 women will be able to access specialist support every year by 2023/24.”
The government is also asking new mothers and their partners to share their views on how specialist services should adapt for the future to better support parents.
The public call for evidence will support the development of a new cross government 10-year plan for mental health.