Why mental health matters
Pregnancy and the postnatal period after your baby is born (both known as the perinatal period) are often talked about as the happiest time in a woman’s life. This can cause pressure, leading to feeling that you should or ought to feel ‘happy’. But sometimes it doesn’t always feel that way.
There are lots of changes that come with pregnancy – physical changes, changes in hormones, changes in relationships and social groups – all of which can affect you differently.
Emotional wellbeing, or mental health, is just as important as physical health. Up to one in five women and one in ten men are affected by mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year after birth, and recent research shows this number might in fact be even higher.
With appropriate treatment and support the negative impact of mental health problems during the perinatal period can be alleviated. Pregnancy and parenthood are an important and challenging time, and it’s important to stay well. The first step is to speak to someone about how you’re feeling. For most of us, our local GP practice is the first place we’ll go when we’re unwell. It’s there to help us with our mental health as well as our physical health. In fact, around one third of all GP appointments are related to mental health. They might make a diagnosis, offer you support and treatment (such as talking therapies and medication), refer you to a specialist perinatal mental health team, or recommend local support options.
Seeking help isn’t always easy, especially when you’re not feeling well. It can take time and may not be straightforward. Mind, the mental health charity, has produced some really useful information about how to start a conversation about your feelings. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that you deserve support. You may feel more comfortable opening up to friends or family, or you may find it easier to approach a professional (such as your midwife, obstetrician, or health visitor) first. There’s no right or wrong way round. The most important thing is to get the help you need.
This film, produced by Perinatal Positivity, uses the real voices and experiences of women and men who have had mental wellbeing difficulties around the time of pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
Mental health support services
Trained therapists and counsellors provide a range of different therapies through the NHS, known as IAPT services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies). In North West Sussex the Time to Talk Service provides talking therapy for people experiencing mild to moderate depression, general anxiety and worry, panic attacks, social anxiety, traumatic memories and obsessive compulsive disorder. In Brighton and Hove this is provided by the Wellbeing Service, in East Sussex it is Health in Mind. Parents can self-refer to all IAPT services.
Peer support brings together people with similar experiences. Your peers can:
- support you and listen to how you’re feeling
- offer empathy and understanding
- share experiences, information, suggestions for self-care and support options
The PANDAS Foundation provides support and advice for parents experiencing perinatal mental illness.
Mothers Uncovered provides peer support for mothers in Brighton and Hove.
Helplines and listening services
- Sussex Mental Healthline
- Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline
- Papyrus for people under 35 contemplating suicide
Local charity and third sector organisations
- BrightPip provides early intervention for parent-infant psychological therapy (PIP) for vulnerable families in the Brighton area.
- Community Roots is run by Southdown, which is the lead provider for third sector services in Brighton and Hove. People can make contact with Community Roots via the website, and they have allocated community navigators to support people in accessing the right services in the city.
- The Flourishing Families Clinic is a specialist clinic, based in adult mental health services, that supports parents seeking treatment for mild to moderate mental health difficulties.
- MIND in Brighton and Hove works to promote good mental health in the city and across Sussex.
- MindOut is a mental health service run by and for lesbians, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people.
Community support services
If your mental health problems are severe or longer lasting, your doctor can put you in touch with specialist mental health services.
These might include the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service, and ‘crisis teams’.
Women in need of inpatient care for severe mental illness may be referred to a mother and baby unit (MBU). These units enable women to stay with their babies while receiving specialist care.
Nearby MBUs include Rosewood Mother and Baby Unit in Dartford, Winchester Mother and Baby Unit, Bethlem Royal Mother and Baby Unit in Bromley, Margaret Oates Mother and Baby Unit in Hackney, and Florence House in Bournemouth.
Help in an emergency
During 9am-5pm, if there is immediate risk to a mother or her baby, please call your GP or go to A&E.
If you know, or are looking after, a parent who you believe is in crisis and requires an urgent response out of hours, please call the Sussex Mental Healthline, Monday to Friday from 5pm-9am, and 24 hours at weekends and Bank Holidays on 0300 5000 101.