Half of mothers with post-natal depression don’t seek help, says report

Charity demands better awareness and talking therapies

By Ian Birch

A staggering 35,000 mothers per year do not seek help for their post-natal depression, according to a charity, which is campaigning for better awareness of the devastating hormonal condition. 

New mother with baby4Children says this is partly because of stigma attached to the illness and there is also an over-reliance on drugs and lack of availability of talking therapies on the NHS. 

The report says many healthcare professionals, such as GPs, need to do more to diagnose post-natal depression early and ensure mothers are being provided with appropriate and timely treatment.

Post-natal depression usually develops within the first four weeks after childbirth. However, it can start several months or even up to one year following childbirth.   Around a third of women who have the illness, have symptoms that start in pregnancy. Around 10-15% of women are estimated to experience post-natal depression.

This is not to be confused with ‘baby blues’ which commonly occurs between the 3rd and the 10th day after the birth and includes being weepy, irritable, anxious and feeling low.

Of the 49% who did not seek help, reasons given were:

  • almost a third (29%) did not realise they were suffering from post-natal depression
  • 60% did not believe their symptoms were serious enough to warrant treatment
  • 33% said they were too scared to tell anyone because they were afraid of what might happen to themselves or their child.

Despite NICE Guidelines on IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), 70% of women who did seek help were prescribed anti-depressants, whilst only 41% were referred for talking therapies.

According the report, postnatal depression is given a low priority on the NHS.  4Children found that:

  • The majority of Primary Care Trusts do not collect information on the prevalence, severity or treatment of post-natal depression at a local level (two Trusts reporting that only one woman had been diagnosed with postnatal depression within the last year).
  • The Department of Health admit that they do not hold national data on the prevalence or treatment of post-natal depression.
  • There is a postcode lottery for inpatient care of mothers suffering from severe depression (an under-provision of Mother and Baby Units in Cumbria, East Anglia, Devon and Cornwall and large parts of Wales and Scotland – and none at all in Northern Ireland).

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children, said: “Post-natal depression is a problem that with the right help, early on, can be treated successfully avoiding long-term impact on the rest of the family. However, many families are suffering the consequences of post-natal depression in silence, and even when they do seek help they all too often encounter a wall of indifference and a lack of empathy from medical professionals with an over reliance on antidepressants for treatment.

“The best ways to treat maternal depression are set out clearly in the NICE guidelines, but all too often there is a shocking lack of awareness. So many women have to rely on luck to come across a sympathetic GP or health visitor who will lead them to the right course of treatment. This report calls for an end to the neglect of this destructive and prevalent illness to ensure that every mother is guaranteed the practical and emotional support she needs to avoid her unnecessary suffering and that of her family.

External Links

For more information about post-natal depression – also known as postpartum depression in some countries such as the USA – please visit:

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