The number of adults who contacted the NSPCC helpline about parental mental health problems rose by 28% during the first three weeks of lockdown, the children’s charity has revealed.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 1 in 5 mums and 1 in 10 dads experienced perinatal mental health problems. But the uncertainty of the coronavirus and social isolation is putting more pressure on parents while reducing their access to support.
“When I was pregnant with my daughter a few years ago, I experienced extreme anxiety. I would not take my anti-depressants even though the doctors said it would be helpful having weighed up the risks. I refused as I was fearful of putting my daughter in danger and was eventually seen by a psychiatrist who also agreed I should be taking medication. My anxiety was at an all time high and this was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” one mum told us. “Without a doubt, if that was now with the fear of the virus, self-isolating and not being able to see friends and relatives and with the thought of giving birth alone if my partner could not have come to hospital with me, I would have been 10 times worse.”
“Many women feel extremely anxious throughout pregnancy anyway and coupled with the current pandemic, anxiety levels must be soaring among mothers – and fathers – to be,” she added.
The NSPCC bought together health visitors, a midwife, and a psychiatrist from a specialist perinatal care team for a unique virtual roundtable. The panel revealed their services have rapidly adapted to support parents digitally, and shared concerns about the immediate effect of lockdown on new mother’s mental health and the potential long-term impact on babies’ health and development.
In some areas of England, at least 50% of highly skilled health visitors, including some from perinatal mental health and parent-infant teams that would normally support parents and safeguard babies were redeployed into other health services in the initial period of the lockdown, according to the Institute of Health Visiting.
The NSPCC’s campaign ‘Our Fight for a Fair Start’ is urging the government to think about the support available for parents as we come out of lockdown and to come up with a plan to rebuild health visiting and perinatal services after the crisis, so that all new parents receive the support they need at every stage.
The children’s commissioner’s for England last week raised concerns about the limitations in support offered to new families under lockdown, the reductions in contact with health visitors, and the inability to maintain birth registers.
Lockdown babies: Children born during the coronavirus crisis