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Increased rates of perinatal mental illness following COVID-19: the call for sufficient midwifery provision

02 March 2024
Volume 32 · Issue 3


The perinatal period is a known time of increased vulnerability to mental health illnesses, which are associated with significant morbidity and mortality. The COVID-19 pandemic saw rates of perinatal mental illness increase, remaining elevated ever since. In this article, postnatal depression is considered a specific perinatal mental health illness, which demonstrates the unique challenges in defining and diagnosing perinatal mental illness, and mitigating the long-term consequences to the infant. As public health practitioners, midwives are effective in preventing postnatal depression, yet may be limited in their ability to support women because of service constraints. Key drivers in the UK are mandating the parity of esteem of mental health and the improved provision of perinatal services, with the recruitment and retention of a sufficient midwifery service highlighted as priority.

Mental health provision is more important now than ever before, with mental health named the most significant cause of disability and one in four people experiencing a mental health illness (NHS England, 2014; 2019). In Great Britain, rates of depression doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic and have not returned to pre-pandemic levels (Baker, 2021; Office for National Statistics, 2021; Baker and Kirk-Wade, 2023). Concerningly, women, people with disabilities and those living in socioeconomic deprivation were disproportionately affected (The Health Foundation, 2021). Indeed, McManus et al (2016) found that women's rates of common mental health disorders were steadily increasing and that women were three times more likely to experience mental health problems than men. This is significant for the practice of midwives, who will care for these women if they become pregnant, and for those who experience the onset of new mental illness during the perinatal period.

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