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Mums Stronger Together: How business leaders are tackling maternal mental health stigma

The event follows the release of statistics from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, which reveal 16,389 new and expectant mothers were unable to access essential perinatal mental health care last year.

A new online campaign is aiming to smash the stigma around maternal mental health by encouraging women to come forward about their experiences.

The Mums Stronger Together event for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week comes as statistics from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance reveal 16,389 new and expectant mothers were unable to access essential perinatal mental health care last year.

The campaign is supported by companies Natal Comfort, The Parenthood App, And So to Shop, Dear Bump, and Mum’s the Word.

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The collective of female business founders are encouraging women to share their own individual experiences of maternal mental health, by holding up a statement about their experience during an online event at 12pm.

Suggested statements include, ‘I had birth trauma’, ‘I had postnatal anxiety’, ‘I had prenatal depression’, and ‘I felt unheard’.

They’re also asking supporters to check in on a mum they know, and ask how they are.

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Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week runs from May 3 to May 9, and is dedicated to talking about mental health problems whilst pregnant or after having a baby.

The main aims of the campaign are to focus on advocating for mums affected by maternal mental health and to help them access the information and help they need to enable recovery.

This year the overall theme is ‘The Power of Connection’, with daily themes all focused on raising public and professional awareness of perinatal mental health problems.

According to analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, thousands of new and expectant mothers with serious mental problems are missing out on vital specialist support.

Between January and December 2021, just 40,411 pregnant women and new mums had contact with perinatal mental health (PMH) services compared to the NHS target of at least 57,000; a shortfall of over 16,000 women.

Research found the NHS is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for specialist PMH support post-pandemic, with services in England receiving a record 93,494 referrals last year alone.

Dr Jo Black, chair of the Perinatal Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Psychiatrists working on the frontline are seeing the devastating impact of new mothers with serious mental health problems waiting far too long for specialist mental health treatment.

“Many others are not being seen by specialist teams at all, putting women, their newborn babies and other family members at risk of long-term mental health problems later on. We need to accelerate the expansion of perinatal mental health services to ensure every new mother who requires support for serious mental health problems can get timely help and support.”

Forty per cent of women are worried their mental health problems will be recorded in their medical records, due to the stigma still attached to mental health, the collective claims.

Emma Jarvis, founder of Dear Bump, said: “We’re creating a space for women to share their experiences of mental health challenges during their pregnancies and post-birth. It’s an issue that isn’t spoken about enough and we want to change that by opening up conversations.”

Karli Büchling, founder of Natal Comfort, recalled her own postnatal experience.

She said: “I had a straight-forward, uncomplicated, quick vaginal birth. I was surrounded by loved ones, friends, family – our house was wrapped in fresh flowers, cards of congratulations and beautiful presents.  But yet, I felt completely alone, and guilty for it.

“Four months in, and the loneliness became unbearable. I couldn’t hold a conversation and started resenting my precious baby for it. I also resented my husband, who could travel to work (he worked in Germany at the time), and have intelligent, meaningful conversations – he seemed content and stimulated, whereas I felt empty.”

Similarly, Maddy Alexander-Grout – who went on to found the Parenthood app – remembers: “I suffered with postpartum psychosis after the birth of my first child. I felt alone and scared. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my experience for fear of being judged.

“I had always wanted to be a mum so why did I feel so awful? I had complications with my second baby too, I ended up with birth trauma, and post natal depression but luckily I saw the signs and I knew what I was looking for. I set up Parenthood App to help other parents to feel less alone.”

Karen Middleton, campaign manager at the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said: “In recent years, there has been welcome progress with the delivery of specialist perinatal mental health services in many areas of the UK, which are helping women with severe and complex maternal mental health problems and their babies get the right care at the right time.

“However, the last two years have placed extraordinary pressures on new and expectant mums and increased maternal mental health risks, so it is vital that the true level of demand for these essential services is reassessed in light of the pandemic’s impact.

“Perinatal services need to be sufficiently funded and resourced, to address the gaps that exist and ensure all women, babies and families can access the support that they urgently need.”

You can join the Mums Stronger Together event here.

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