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The economic case for investing in the prevention of mental health conditions in the UK. 2023. (accessed 23 August 2023)

Maternal Mental Health Alliance. Briefing: perinatal mental health and domestic abuse. 2023. (accessed 23 August 2023)

Royal College of Midwives. Strengthening perinatal mental health: a roadmap to the right support at the right time. 2023a. (accessed 23 August 2023)

Royal College of Midwives. ‘Midwives need the time to care’ says the RCM as it calls for perinatal mental health support. 2023b. (accessed 23 August 2023)

Perinatal mental health support in the UK

02 September 2023
Volume 31 · Issue 9

One in five women reportedly experience mental health issues during pregnancy or up to 1 year after giving birth (Royal College of Midwives (RCM), 2023a). Research in the UK shows that overall, mental health problems in the general population cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion per year; and this figure does not include the costs associated with numerous related issues, such as alcohol or substance misuse, self-harm or suicide (McDaid and Park, 2022).

There are interventions that can prevent perinatal mental health issues from developing or progressing, such as training health visitors to identify women who are at risk of perinatal depression or providing peer support for those affected (McDaid and Park, 2022). It has also been reported that specialist perinatal mental health services, rather than general psychiatric services, are both more effective and preferred by women (King's College London, 2022).

In response to growing evidence of the impact of perinatal mental health issues and the need for increased support, the RCM (2023a) has published a ‘roadmap’ designed to strengthen and support perinatal mental health. The key priorities outlined in the roadmap include:

  • Annual updates on perinatal mental health assessment for professionals working with perinatal women
  • The availability of a perinatal specialist midwife and necessary administrative support at every maternity trust
  • Access to education and training on perinatal and infant mental health.

The roadmap states that mental health needs are often seen as secondary to physical needs. This is despite evidence that mental ill health is just as impactful as physical factors on maternal deaths in the UK (Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2023).

The RCM's roadmap highlights the vital role of midwives in supporting perinatal mental health. The College's executive director, Birte Harlev-Lam OBE, emphasised that a key issue is the lack of midwives; it is estimated that fewer than 350 additional specialist perinatal mental health midwives could significantly improve support for women (RCM, 2023b).

While it will never be simple or easy to put in place extensive infrastructure for policies such as this, it is still good to see the importance of mental health concerns being addressed, and to hope that this is one step towards a brighter, more supportive and happier future for all women accessing maternity services.