The epidemic of our time

The lack of emotional support available to pregnant and post-natal women is a serious concern. At a recent Liverpool conference organised by the Improving Me Women’s and Children’s Services Partnership, it was described as ‘the epidemic of our time’.

As I told Parliament during a recent debate on maternity leave, I have had a baby, and as a new Mum, I have been acutely aware of the need for pregnant women and new Mums to keep a close watch on their mental health. During pregnancy and the year after birth, many women will experience common mental health problems, including anxiety disorders and depression, and Dads will too. The risk of developing a severe mental health condition, such as postpartum psychosis, schizophrenia, severe depression or bipolar disorder, increases after childbirth. For women, it is the time that we are most likely to experience those conditions. You can read more about the debate here.

Of course, the government says it is boosting funding to mental health, but my concern is what is happening on the front-line, and I hear again and again that services are under enormous pressures and strains. For instance, in relation to children’s mental health, the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt again made the funding claim in Parliament. I told him about Liverpool’s Young Person’s Advisory Service, which is the main service for young people’s mental health in the city. It has seen a £757,000 cut – 43 per cent – of its budget in this financial year. In fact, there are now 412 children in Liverpool waiting more than 28 weeks for an assessment – and that’s before they get access to treatment. You can read the exchange here.

The Liverpool conference brought together clinicians, academics, community partners and local families to focus together on the mental health provision accessible to women before, during and after pregnancy. It encouraged more integrated working across geographical and organisational boundaries to help improve experiences for all women.

The first 1,001 days of a child’s life, from conception to age two, still largely determines their life chances and life outcome, which means it is crucial that emotional and mental health support is readily accessible to women before, during and after pregnancy.

The conference saw the Merseyside launch of The Female Mind: a Users’ Guide – a new book published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists which explores themes such as anxiety, motherhood, eating disorders and living positively with mental illness.

It’s great to see those on the frontline exploring new ways of working for local women’s and children’s services. I’m determined to play my part in making sure that the government provides the right support needed to make change happen.