Two in five new parents experience mental health issues, poll finds

Two in five parents experienced a mental health issue during or after pregnancy with their first child, according to a survey, which found many are too afraid to seek professional support.

The poll of 2,000 new mothers and fathers, for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), found that less than half (46%) of those who suffered from anxiety, depression or another mental health issue considered seeking help from a healthcare professional. A quarter of those who did not seek professional support said they were too scared to do so.

The RCN suggests the findings point to an “ongoing stigma” around mental health, which is particularly powerful for parents and is preventing many from getting potentially life-saving support.

The poll results also highlight the lack of support for men, a quarter of whom said they experienced depression or anxiety during or after their partner’s pregnancy. Around two-thirds of men were not asked about their mental health at all during the pregnancy, the survey found.

Carmel Bagness, professional lead for midwifery and women’s health at the RCN, said: “Too many parents worry that going through depression or anxiety means they will be deemed unfit parents, and this can be a hugely damaging and incorrect assumption which is putting lives at risk and preventing people getting the support they deserve.

“All healthcare staff should be aware of the importance of the mental health of mothers and fathers. Employers should provide training to ensure that every member of staff knows how to talk about these issues with parents, and how to encourage parents to be open about their mental health.

“Too many women and men are suffering in silence because of outdated stigmas. Too often, attitudes towards mental health are not fit for the 21st century.”

The YouGov poll found that the majority of people who suffered a mental health issue relied on their partner or other relatives for support. Of those who did not seek professional health, 11% said they did not know that support was available from healthcare staff.

Clare Dolman, acting vice-chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said the coalition of more than 60 organisations “wholeheartedly endorses the RCN’s call for more training to combat the stigma towards new parents who experience mental health difficulties.

“As a mother who experienced mental illness after the birth of my daughter, I am very aware of how frightening and isolating an experience it can be – and how much it can affect fathers too,” she said. “I have met many women in a similar situation and the vast majority of them recover very well and are excellent parents, but they need the understanding and support of all those around them, not just family and friends but health professionals too.”

Last year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) issued guidelines on antenatal and postnatal health, stating that healthcare workers should “recognise that the range and prevalence of anxiety disorders (including generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder) and depression are under-recognised throughout pregnancy and the postnatal period”.