WOMEN during and after pregnancy have faced a greater likelihood of suffering from poor mental health during the pandemic a new report has found.
The report shows that access to crucial services for pregnant women, new mothers and children were restricted during the earlier stages in the pandemic.
The report has caused leading mental health charities to call on the Scottish Government for further funding and support for perinatal mental health services.
The review of evidence was commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), and conducted by Centre for Mental Health, for the first time compiles all available evidence into one place.
The report says that access to crucial services reduced for pregnant women, new mums and babies across the UK, especially during the early stages of the pandemic.
The report highlights that while health and care staff worked hard to deliver safe care, significant gaps emerged.
The report also found that women of colour and women from poorer economic backgrounds are more likely to experience mental health problems during and after pregnancy, according to the research.
The MMHA say that they are “calling on Ministers to fill the pre-Covid gaps in specialist perinatal mental health.
“In addition, the wider system surrounding these services, including health visiting and maternity, needs to be protected and enhanced.
“Furthermore, up-to-date monitoring and research of maternal mental healthcare should be commissioned.”
It also says that without sustained funding, many Voluntary and Community Services will not survive, despite the increased demand from women for their services.
Laura Bennison, Everyone’s Business Campaign Coordinator for MMHA in Scotland said: ‘Today’s report should serve as a warning siren about the dangers to women’s maternal mental health and potential risks to the wellbeing of their babies.
“The pandemic has placed additional challenges on new and expectant mums getting the care and support they need.
“We welcome advances in early years policy in Scotland over the last 10 years but this is just the start.
“Sustained investment is needed to take forward the Scottish Government’s plans to develop specialist, community perinatal mental health services in every part of the country.
“Without a long-term commitment to these services, recent policy advance may not actually be improving outcomes for women and families in Scotland.
“With budgets squeezed and need increasing, we are calling on the Scottish Government to invest in specialist community perinatal mental health services to turn the map green in Scotland to help new and expectant mums to recover from the pandemic.”
The report found that extra pressures include anxiety about giving birth during lockdown without partners present, fears of losing jobs, heightened levels of domestic violence, bereavement, worries about catching Covid-19, and concern about new infants catching the disease.
Dr Selena Gleadow-Ware, chair of the perinatal faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “Women and families have lost out on many supports that normally protect mental health and a generation of babies have been born in lockdown.
“Last year, we welcomed the Scottish Government Perinatal and Infant Mental Health fund.
“This year, we need additional investment so that services can meet the increased demand due to the covid-19 pandemic and ensure that no family is left behind.”
“Some progress has been made, but without additional steps to address these unmet needs, there is a risk a generation of mothers and children will suffer disproportionately. This report is right to highlight that investment is needed now.
“Above all, new mums and pregnant women should not be missing out on the support and treatment they so vitally need.”
The report also found that women also experienced a reduction in informal support from friends, relatives and networks of other women sharing their experiences.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We know looking after the health and wellbeing of new parents is vitally important both for them and their children – that’s why we provided £50 million funding to improve mental health provision for families throughout pregnancy and during the postnatal period.
“To achieve this we are working with all Health Boards across Scotland to expand on existing perinatal and infant mental health services, establish specialist services in communities where they previously did not exist, and support maternal and neonatal psychological provision.
“Alongside this we are working to enhance staffing in mother and baby units and services provided by the third sector such as counselling and befriending.
“We recognise that the third sector provides an invaluable source of support for people, particularly at the moment with the impacts of COVID-19.
“Our Perinatal and Infant Mental Health fund will provides annual funding of up to £1 million to help third sector organisations deliver vital services.
“It is crucial that perinatal and infant mental health services are led by the needs of women, young children and families, so we will continue to build on good practice and learn from positive and negative experiences of current services.”