A children’s charity fears new parents are “suffering in silence” during lockdown, as it reports an increase in calls to its helpline about parental mental health.
On Tuesday, ahead of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day on May 6, the NSPCC hosted a virtual roundtable with health visitors, as well as a midwife and psychiatrist, and the chairman of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Dr Alain Gregoire.
The panel said their services have adapted to support parents digitally, but they shared concerns about the effect of the Covid-19 crisis on new mothers’ mental health and the potential long-term impact on babies’ health and development.
The NSPCC reported an increase of 28% in calls to its helpline about parental mental health in the first three weeks of lockdown.
Before the pandemic, up to one in five mothers and one in 10 fathers experienced perinatal mental health problems, the charity said.
Eileen O’Sullivan, a specialist health visitor in Warwickshire, said: “Supporting mothers digitally can be challenging and there is a concern that some may be suffering in silence, too scared to share how they are really feeling over video.
“I am also seeing that my colleagues are being extra vigilant because we don’t want to miss anything.”
The NSPCC cited data from the Institute of Health Visiting, which found in some areas of England at least 50% of health visitors, including some from perinatal mental health and parent-infant teams, were redeployed into other health services in the initial period of the lockdown.
The NSPCC is urging the Government to ensure support is provided to parents as the country comes out of lockdown, and to come up with a plan to rebuild health visiting and perinatal services after the crisis.
Andrew Fellowes, public affairs manager at the NSPCC, said: “At the NSPCC we know that if undetected and untreated, perinatal mental health problems can have a devastating impact on women, partners and babies, both immediately but also long after the Covid-19 situation has passed.
“It is imperative that families continue to have access to services during the lockdown so that mental health problems can be identified and specialist support provided if needed.”
Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director, said: “Untreated mental ill health during pregnancy or that affects bonding with a new baby can be devastating, but to anyone who is struggling with their mental health at this difficult time, our message is clear – the NHS is here for you, so help us help you and come forward for the care you need.
“The NHS has pulled out the stops to respond to the biggest global health threat in a century but our mental health services are still available, with many offering flexible options to keep people safe from the virus such as video and phone consultations.”
The NSPCC is inviting people to sign its Fight for a Fair Start petition, which calls on the Government to ensure all new parents can access the support they need at every stage during the Covid-19 crisis – from the first check-up through to specialist help if needed.