A report from the mental health charity Mind paints a bleak picture of the state of mental health services for women during pregnancy and after the birth of their babies.
Mind found that mothers’ mental health problems often went undiagnosed, and that when a diagnosis was made there was a lack of treatment options and a chronic shortage of services.
Drugs were used to treat women in more than 75% of cases, despite National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance recommending cognitive behaviour therapy as a “key” treatment for mental health problems.
Nearly two thirds of women admitted to hospital were on general psychiatric wards – contrary to national guidelines – while the same proportion had to wait a month or more for treatment. Nearly one in ten waited for than a year.
Health professionals were also criticised, with 90% of women attributing their problems in getting care to a lack of understanding from those involved in their care.
The study claimed there is a “postcode lottery” in force. Three quarters of mental health trusts in England have no mother and baby unit and fewer than half have any kind of specialist mental health services around childbirth.
Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said it was shocking how many women were incorrectly diagnosed, put on waiting lists or told that services were not available in their area. “Yet again we come across drugs being used as the only treatment – and for this group that has particular impact,” he said.
“Far too many women are placed on general psychiatric hospitals without their baby because of a critical shortage of specialist mother and baby units. The gaps in knowledge, provision and care for these vulnerable women must be addressed now,” he added.
Mind also called for a lead clinician in all maternity services with an interest in mental health; all women who require admission to hospital after birth having access to a specialist mother and baby unit; and better training for health professionals.