The BBC has announced that award-winning filmmaker Louis Theroux will return to the UK to document the stories of women who have been diagnosed with a range of serious conditions – including depression, anxiety and psychosis – triggered by birth or the strains of motherhood. Louis will follow patients and their families in hospital and at home, exploring what lies behind their crises and discovering the immense challenge in caring for people at an incredibly vulnerable time in their lives.
Maternal mental health is a huge issue and one that is more than deserving of Louis’ and our attention. As many as one in five women develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the first year after the birth of their baby according to a 2017 report by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (RCOG), which can range from anxiety, low mood, OCD, body image issues, eating disorders and depression to psychosis and suicide.
Pregnancy, childbirth and the mental health conditions that can follow can be frightening, intense and debilitating and as the RCOG explains, “the pain this causes women and their families, the negative impact on their health and wellbeing, and the economic costs to individuals, the NHS and the nation are considerable.”
Did you know:
• Around one-quarter of all maternal deaths between six weeks and a year after childbirth are related to mental health problems (MBRRACE-UK)
• In almost half of the UK, pregnant women and new mothers have no access to specialist community maternal mental health services (Maternal Mental Health Alliance)
• Maternal mental health problems cost the UK £8.1bn per year (London School of Economics and Centre for Mental Health)
Maternal mental health is complex. There are sociocultural expectations that women should be thrilled at the prospect of becoming a mother and many just do not want to voice how they feel for fear of being judged.
And accessing help isn’t any easier. In the RCOG’s report, only 7% of women in the UK experiencing maternal mental health problems were referred to specialist support and around 40% of women waited over 4 weeks to be referred for mental health support, with some waiting over a year.
These statistics are, quite frankly, shocking. We know that patients waiting longer to access mental health services have poorer clinical outcomes and this is a problem that technology could be solving right now. If perinatal mental health problems are identified and addressed quickly and effectively, the serious and often life-changing human and economic consequences could be mitigated.
Technology is already rapidly changing the face of healthcare, and we’re seeing femtech (female technology) gain significant traction, which is beginning to enable women to manage their health and wellbeing on a more precise and personalized level than ever before.
As Maternal Mental Health Week draws to a close during Mental Health Awareness Month, despite the huge leaps we’re seeing in femtech and greater awareness of the impact of mental health problems during and after pregnancy, there is still a long way to go. Femtech might hold part of the solution, but we all have a responsibility to open up the conversation, break down the stigma and support women to be able to acknowledge and share their experiences of mental health at an exciting and challenging time in their lives.