The Maternal Pandemic
A report published this week outlines the findings of a rapid impact review of COVID-19’s impact on maternal mental health and services by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and Centre for Maternal Health. A combination of lockdown, economic uncertainty, job insecurity, and the impact of the virus itself, coupled with the reduced access to vital perinatal and mental health services, is likely to have long-term consequences for women and their families, as well as for health services and provisions
The impact of Covid-19 on maternal mental health
The findings bear witness to a rise in women’s anxiety levels as restrictions have removed access to support; not just services, but contact with family and friends, with many people expected to experience mental health problems as both a direct and indirect result of the crisis.
“Covid itself has added to expectant and new parents’ anxiety levels massively and so we believe we are seeing parents we may not have prior to Covid, as the restrictions and isolation of the pandemic itself has been the reason they’re asking for support.”
The study highlights the key areas where the pandemic has posed the greatest challenges, and identifies the issues which have caused an increase in maternal anxiety, depression and stress, such as worry over child and family wellbeing, concerns about being able to cope, worries over lack of clarity of information on maternity services, and over job security. It also draws attention to women who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and subsequent restrictions, such as those from minority ethnic communities, refugee and asylum-seeking women, single parent families, women and families experiencing domestic violence, and those with mental health problems or with a history of severe post-natal illness. The review also shows evidence of a reduction in statutory services where women and families have been detrimentally impacted, such as health visiting, and acknowledged the workplace wellbeing challenges facing all sectors.
The report sets out 8 key recommendations and calls for urgent action to be taken to address both current and ongoing issues:
- An immediate assessment of the level of need for perinatal mental health services in England and the devolved nations to gauge true demand.
- Futureproofing of perinatal mental health services against future pandemics or similar public health crises, by guaranteeing minimum standards of mental health care and support for pregnant women and mothers, including ensuring staff numbers are maintained.
- Collecting and publishing up-to-date data on the mental and physical health of women during the perinatal period to understand the changing picture.
- Tackling racial discrimination within health systems and the disparity in maternal mental health outcomes caused by the crisis, and by longer-term issues, for women of colour.
- Funding and conducting better research to prioritise understanding the longer-term emotional and psychological impacts of the pandemic on young families.
- Understanding the impact of ‘remote’ mental health care where face-to-face services have been replaced by remote services, and whether there is an impact on quality, choice, patient satisfaction and whether they help people with their mental health.
- Government and NHS to recognise the importance of voluntary and community organisations, and value the role of voluntary and community organisations in meeting women’s mental health needs during the perinatal period.
- Supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of all health and care staff working with women and families during the perinatal period, recognising the risk of exhaustion, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) created during the pandemic.
The University of Lincoln’s Carers & Parent (CaP) Club provides peer support and networking opportunities for staff who are carers, parents and parents-to-be.