Taking care of maternal mental health during COVID-19

During the uncertain times of COVID-19, it is more important than ever for us all to take care of ourselves and each other. This is understandably a difficult and stressful period for many, and potentially even more so for women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby.

As a member of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), the WI is part of a coalition of 96 UK organisations, working together to improve access to specialist maternal mental health services across the four nations of the UK. The MMHA’s Everyone’s Business Campaign calls for all women throughout the UK who experience a perinatal mental illness to receive the care they and their families need, wherever and whenever they need it.

MMHA has launched new resources to support women and families with their mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, which we are delighted to share with WI members.

In addition, they are lobbying local and national decision-makers to ensure the mental health needs of women and their families are considered during this challenging period and beyond. With your help, we can make sure women’s voices are heard and their needs are met.

Maternal mental health concerns during COVID-19

Three things remain clear for MMHA:

  1. Perinatal stress and mental health needs are increased from an already high level Before the Coronavirus pandemic, more than 1 in 10 women experienced mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth (often called the perinatal period), but there are mounting concerns that lockdown is causing increased anxieties and pressure on parents.
  2. If left untreated, mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year after birth will continue to have a devastating impact during and beyond the pandemic We know that the costs of not identifying and treating perinatal mental health problems are significant[1], with potentially wide-ranging effects on the mental and physical health of women, their children, partners and significant others. In severe cases, perinatal mental illness can be life-threatening, with suicide being one of the leading causes of death for women in the UK during the perinatal period[2]. This unnecessary suffering can and must be avoided at all costs.
  3. Perceived and real access to care at every level is reduced, and a proactive approach is needed to overcome these barriers That is why it is even more important in these uncertain times that women in the perinatal period can access the specialist support and care they and their families need during the crisis.

What is the MMHA doing to help right now?

Plea to PLAN

To ensure women and families in the UK receive the care they need and deserve during the pandemic, MMHA are pleading with national and local decision-makers to PLAN with the mental as well as physical health needs of women and their families in mind, during and beyond COVID-19.

  • Protect the perinatal mental health workforce and plans through and beyond this crisis
  • Link-up the mental health care and support available for women and families during this time
  • Acknowledge the impact of the crisis on perinatal mental health and its potential long-term consequences
  • Navigate the crisis while prioritising the perinatal mental health needs of women and families and proactively encouraging them to seek help early

Mental wellbeing guidance for pregnant women and new parents

MMHA members, staff and leading experts have collaborated on guidance to help new and expectant mums protect their mental wellbeing. This includes mental health and wellbeing tips for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth during the pandemic and guidance for women and loved ones who are unwell with a maternal mental health problem during the pandemic.

What mental health support is available for mums during this time?

Maternity and maternal mental health professionals and voluntary support organisations are still open and ready to offer support. If you are worried that you or your loved one is unwell with a maternal mental health problem, do not wait.

Remember: It is OK to ask for help, even during a pandemic.

Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP. They can refer you to local support services and ensure you get the support you need. Please check in with anyone you think might be having a difficult time. Just a quick chat on the phone can really help and is a simple way of showing solidarity with all the women in our lives.

How you can help

Help MMHA spread the word to ensure maternal mental health remains a top priority now and as we move out of lockdown.

  1. Share the ‘Plea to PLAN’ with your key contacts
  2. Follow and retweet our calls from @MMHAlliance
  3. Share the expert perinatal mental wellbeing guidance to let women and families know that this is there for them

Further COVID-19 information and support for mums and their families

See additional resources from Maternal Mental Health Alliance members offering support and guidance for professionals working with women and families in the perinatal period, for new and expectant parents, and to help us all look after our mental health and wellbeing at this time.

For further information about getting involved/general enquiries about MMHA, please contact info@maternalmentalhealthalliance.org.

Written by Sian Drinkwater, Senior Assistant (Campaign), Everyone's Business Campaign, Maternal Mental Health Alliance

[1] Bauer, A., Parsonage, M., Knapp, M., Lemmi, V., and Adelaja, B (2014) The cost of perinatal mental health problems. Centre for Mental Health and London School of Economics: London

[2] Knight, M., Bunch, K., Tuffnell, D., Shakespeare, J., Kotnis, R., Kenyon, S., Kurinczuk, J. J (2019) (Eds) Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care. Lessons learned to inform maternity care from the UK and Ireland Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity 2015-17. The Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review programme: MBRRACE-UK.