Suffering in Silence

30 September 2011

4Children calls for an end to the neglect of 35,000 mothers with untreated postnatal depression each year


A report from the national charity, 4Children, says a chronic lack of awareness of the symptoms of postnatal depression is leading to as many as 35,000 women suffering in silence from the condition each year with devastating effects on their families.


New figures, published today, show that a staggering half of women suffering from postnatal depression do not seek any professional treatment. Thousands more are not getting their postnatal depression treated quickly or effectively enough because of serious shortcomings in the system of screening and referral, an over-reliance on the use of antidepressants and because of a sense of stigma attached to admitting to experiencing the symptoms. 

The report – the first of three looking at ways of preventing family crisis as part of the charity’s Give Me Strength campaign - highlights the terrible toll that untreated maternal depression has on families leading to relationship difficulties and breakdown, pressure on older siblings to step in to look after babies and children living with the long term consequences of poor early bonding.

The report also reveals that many healthcare professionals – including GPs - need to do more to diagnose postnatal depression early and ensure mothers are being provided with appropriate and timely treatment.

Suffering in silence
New figures in the report reveal a worrying culture of fear and lack of awareness among mothers and their partners, despite 1 in 10 women suffering from the condition. 49% of women who had

  • almost a third (29%) did not realise they were suffering from postnatal depression;
  • 60% did not believe their symptoms were serious enough to warrant treatment;
  • and - even more worrying - 33% said they were too scared to tell anyone because they were afraid of what might happen to themselves or their child.

Hunger for information
The survey exposes the real lack of information and hunger for knowledge among those suffering with postnatal depression and dissatisfied with their treatment, with:

  •  65% wanting more information on support groups;
  •  52% asking for information on counselling and other talking therapies;
  •  46% not satisfied with the information they received about the symptoms of postnatal depression.

Shortcomings in the NHS
Despite NICE guidelines for the effective and timely treatment of postnatal depression which stipulates that so-called ‘talking therapy’ should be offered to women with a mild or moderate diagnosis, the report shows that this is not the reality for many women:

  •  70% of survey respondents were prescribed antidepressants by their GP compared with 41% referred to talking therapies that are more likely to bring about long term solutions.

Research undertaken for the report reveals a worrying picture of how low postnatal depression is placed on the list of NHS priorities:

  •  The majority of Primary Care Trusts do not collect information on the prevalence, severity or treatment of postnatal depression at a local level (two Trusts reporting that only one woman had been diagnosed with postnatal depression within the last year).
  •  The Department of Health admit that they do not hold national data on the prevalence or treatment of postnatal depression.
  •  There is a postcode lottery for inpatient care of mothers suffering from severe depression (an under-provision of Mother and Baby Units in Cumbria, East Anglia, Devon and Cornwall and large parts of Wales and Scotland – and none at all in Northern Ireland).

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children said:


Postnatal depression is a problem that with the right help, early on, can be treated successfully avoiding long-term impact on the rest of the family. However, many families are suffering the consequences of postnatal depression in silence, and even when they do seek help they all too often encounter a wall of indifference and a lack of empathy from medical professionals with an over reliance on antidepressants for treatment.

“The best ways to treat maternal depression are set out clearly in the NICE guidelines, but all too often there is a shocking lack of awareness. So many women have to rely on luck to come across a sympathetic GP or health visitor who will lead them to the right course of treatment. This report calls for an end to the neglect of this destructive and prevalent illness to ensure that every mother is guaranteed the practical and emotional support she needs to avoid her unnecessary suffering and that of her family.

Notes to Editors

Anne Longfield will be available for interview at the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday evening and Monday.

Case studies are also available for interview: women who can talk about the experience of suffering from postnatal depression and its effect on their families.

For further information and for case studies to interview please contact:
Attila Kulcsar at attila.kulcsar@4children.org.uk or call 020 7522 6919 / 07917542464
(or Julie Evans on Julie.evans@4children.org.uk or 020 7522 6928/ 07917870641 )

4Children’s Survey

In the summer of 2011, 4Children commissioned the parenting club, Bounty, to undertake a survey of more than 2,000 mums aimed at gathering new evidence about the prevalence, awareness and experience of postnatal depression. The results showed that half of the women (49%) who had suffered from postnatal depression had not sought professional treatment. Further analysis showed that this average figure disguised a significant variation with first time mums less likely (42%) than ‘multi mums’ (54%) to seek professional help.
With 700,000 births in England and Wales each year[i] and at least 1 in 10 of these likely to suffer from postnatal depression, that is 35,000 mums and their families suffering in silence.

Family approach

4Children’s report also highlights how the whole family - who with the right help could be offering support to women - are also suffering from this lack of information. The survey shows how difficult postnatal depression can be for male partners who are not given external support:

  •     53% of women wished their partners had been given more information from health visitors;
  •     39% said their partner needed to discuss his anxieties with someone;
  •     11% wanted treatment for their partner who was also depressed.

Recommendations

As a result of the report’s findings, 4Children has proposed a raft of recommendations which would all help to ensure the early detection, treatment and cure of postnatal depression:

  •     A national awareness campaign led by the Department of Health to challenge the myths and stigma attached to illness.
  •     A more proactive role for the new army of 4,200 Health Visitors, including ante-natal screening to identify women at greater risk.
  •     Further training for other professionals working with new mothers and a new commitment from GPs to always offering psychological therapies and referring women to support groups and befriending schemes.
  •     Improved collection of data by the NHS to provide a clear picture of the diagnosis and treatment of post-natal depression to ensure consistent support across the country. 
  •     Greater availability of inpatient facilities for cases of severe depression.
  •     More emphasis on supporting the whole family though postnatal depression, with information and support for dads, and more help to strengthen family relationships and bonds.

Spotting the symptoms

According to the parenting website, Netmums, the following signs can indicate when a woman is suffering from postnatal depression:

  •   Low mood or feeling miserable for long periods of time.
  •   Lack of energy, feeling constantly tired and unable to cope.
  •   Difficulty in sleeping or problems with eating.
  •   Feeling overwhelmed, or guilty for being a ‘bad mother’.
  •   Feeling very anxious or fearful, for example, you may worry a lot about the health and safety of your baby.

On the Netmums website mums can find online information and support pages, links to postnatal depression services where they live as well as the chance to talk to an online parent supporter as well as support from the Netmums community in the dedicated postnatal depression forums in our coffee house.

About 4Children

4Children is the national children and families’ charity which develops, influences and shapes national policy on all aspects of children, young people and families lives and works with a wide range of partners to deliver real support for children and families in their community. It is one of the largest not for profit Children’s Centre providers in the country and currently runs 40 Children’s Centres and 22 Day Nurseries.

  •  Our family outreach workers work with parents in their own homes, providing help, advice and practical support.
  •  Our specialist teams work to support vulnerable families experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence and post-natal depression.
  •  Our youth workers provide positive and engaging activities in what can be tough circumstances.

    For more information visit www.4Children.org.uk.

Give Me Strength

Give Me Strength is a national campaign, run by 4Children, which demands more help for families to avert crisis. 4Children’s research for the campaign showed 91% people were prepared to provide practical or financial help and support to families struggling to cope.

With estimates showing that central and local government spend ten times more on the most disruptive and chaotic families than on the average family, 70% or people felt this was wrong and that more should be spent preventing problems and keeping families together.

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