MP calls on Government to address maternal mental health as a priority
Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrats MP for Richmond Park, has today held a Westminster Hall debate on the mental health of mothers during the perinatal period, with a specific focus on the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated systemic problems for vulnerable women.
"The sheer volume of responses we've had in just a matter of days signals just how significant an issue this is, and how critical it is we act quickly, " she said.
"Even before the pandemic took hold of public resources, this was a service that was chronically underfunded and understaffed. It's clear we need better mental health support for all ages and at all stages. We also need better training throughout our health service to identify and support those who are struggling. This must be a priority."
Within the survey, it was revealed that over 60 per cent of respondents said that online appointments they had had with their health visitor had not been effective.
Sarah Olney added: "The pandemic has forced us to make use of digital tools in a number of new areas. We should not, however, allow digital and telephone perinatal check-ups to become the norm. I believe both the survey and today's debate also highlighted the importance of preserving home visits.
"The Government must provide whatever funds necessary to ensure that the system is capable of protecting new and expectant mothers' mental health."
The debate followed a survey piloted by the House of Commons digital engagement team which looked into the experiences of women who had given birth in the last 18 months. It asked how the pandemic had impacted their pregnancy and becoming a mother, and how this had affected their mental health.
11,265 people from across the UK responded to the survey. Among the key issues reported were:
*The toll pregnancy had taken on respondents' mental health, with many experiencing anxiety, OCD and PTSD.
*Significant issues with health visitors and appointments.
*Isolation and loneliness as a result of giving birth during a pandemic.
*Financial pressures owing to the pandemic and its impact on mental health.
*The Importance of services such as baby groups and the difficulties respondents had in coping without them.
*The impact on wider family networks.