'It’s like the end of the world': The surge in new mums getting mental health treatment

More than 57,000 new and expectant mothers received specialist treatment for mental health issues in the past year – up a third compared to the year before – with unstable investment in the sector is putting women at risk, ITV News Health Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports

The number of new and expectant mothers in England getting specialist support for mental health problems has almost doubled in the last three years, ITV News has learned.

Data from NHS England shows more than 57,000 women received treatment in the last year, that's up a third compared to the year before.

It can feel like “the end of the world” one woman who experienced postpartum psychosis told ITV News.

We’ve been given permission to film at the Ribblemere Mother and Baby Unit in Lancashire, a psychiatric ward where women are treated with their babies.

Around 20% of women will experience mental health struggles in pregnancy or after birth.

A small number will get so severely ill, they need to be admitted to a psychiatric unit like this.

It’s calmer and quieter than a general adult psychiatric ward, except for the gentle murmurs of newborn babies being comforted by specialist staff.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that up to 1,200 mothers experience psychosis each year in England and Wales.

Elinor Davies was one of them.

She was admitted to Ribblemere Mother and Baby Unit after the birth of her son.

“You feel quite alone, it’s quite an isolating experience. It’s way more than depression and anxiety, it’s like the end of the world.” she told ITV News.

Her son is now nearly four years old, and she supports other women, through the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis.

Elinor Davies was admitted to Ribblemere Mother and Baby Unit after the birth of her son. Credit: ITV News

“He doesn’t remember being in hospital with me, but I’m very open about it” Eli told ITV News.

“Although it might sound scary that mummy was hospital, I think it’s really important for him to know I got better with the help of everyone around me in the hospital.”

The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have driven a rise in all mental health problems.

The increase in pregnant women and new mothers getting support is partly down to improved services, but also reflects the growing demand.

Hazvi Chimutanda says the specialist support, and her daughter, brought her happiness again. Credit: ITV News

Perinatal Consultant Nurse, Stef Maudsley, says society puts pressure on mothers to be the “perfect mum” and to enjoy parenthood from the outset.

“For lots of people that's just not the experience, it can be very difficult to adapt to being a parent and very lonely."

Kath Brace died by suicide after the death of her baby son. Credit: ITV News/family handout

Six years ago, Ribblemere Mother and Baby Unit did not exist, so women in this part of Lancashire would have had to travel miles or go to a general adult psychiatric ward.

And across England some women are still tragically missing out vital mental health support.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for women in the first year after birth.

Kath Brace was excited for the birth of her first child.

But Otis was born prematurely and only lived for one day.

There’s huge demand for care and services. Credit: ITV News

His death left Kath in crisis and, say her family, a chasm of care.

“The services just weren’t there to support someone like Kath,” her sister-in-law Rose James told ITV News.

Seven months after the death her son, Kath died by suicide.

“She just slipped through the net. There should be somewhere for bereaved families to seek help.”

The psychiatric hospital where Kath was being treated allowed her to leave unescorted, despite two previous suicide attempts.

“We’ve lost the heart of the family. Even 18 months on we fully expect her to walk through the door and she is never going to. It has just devastated our family completely,” said Rosie.

An inquest found failings at the hospital contributed to her death.

"Our deepest condolences go out to Kath’s family and loved ones,” Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust told ITV News.

NHS England says every part of England has a specialist mental health team offering women with mental health needs support. Credit: ITV News

“We fully accept the findings of the inquest and have conducted a full review in order to find out what has happened and if we can make changes to prevent deaths in the future."

NHS England says there are now 40 Maternal Mental Health Services across England for women who need specialist support after perinatal loss.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s National Mental Health Director says: “Our specialist teams across the country are highly trained and have many effective approaches to successful treatment, so if you are pregnant or have given birth in the last two years and are struggling with your mental health then please do not hesitate to ask your GP for support, the NHS is here to help.”

In Northamptonshire, a Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team was set up five years ago. They now help 900 women a year.

They run community outreach programmes to support women before they reach crisis point.

At a Children’s Centre in Wellingborough, we met Hazvi Chimutanda and her two-year-old daughter Matida.

Having suffered a stillbirth, Hazvi became severely unwell while pregnant with Matida.

“I don’t think I’d be here if I hadn’t had the help,” Hazvi told ITV News.

She says the specialist support, and her daughter, brought her happiness again.

“Her name, Matida, means I have been loved. I have felt love again. I have felt embraced again. I have felt, yes, I can do this life thing again.”

Anyone can experience maternal mental health problems, but campaigners say some are less likely to receive the care they need, for example black and brown women, young mothers, and those living in poverty.

NHS England says every part of England now has a specialist mental health team offering women with moderate to severe or complex mental health needs support.

But experts say despite the increase in services in recent years, staff shortages and unstable funding are hampering efforts.

“There’s huge demand for care and services,” says Dr Livia Martucci from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“Even though services have expanded, they are stretched. And sometimes they struggle to meet demand.”

Health minister, Maria Caulfield, told ITV News the government is “committed to ensuring these services are available to every new mother who needs them, no matter where they live in England."

She continued: “The government has also significantly increased spending on mental health to support these ambitions.”

For the sake of the next generation, everyone agrees, it is vital we invest in the health of their mothers.

SamaritansSamaritans provides round-the-clock support for people when they need it most. You can call them 24 hours a day on 116 123. They also have tips if you're concerned about someone you know.

Maternal Mental Health Alliance

Action on Postpartum Psychosis | The national charity for mums and families affected by postpartum psychosis app-network.org

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