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Risk of post-natal depression being diagnosed late during lockdown

  • Priory expert warns that the signs of post-natal depression are being missed during lockdown
  • Key to treating post-natal depression is picking it up early
  • Mums isolated from friends and family more at risk
  • Online help available for the condition

The coronavirus lockdown is risking a “profound” effect on the mental health of new mothers, according to a Consultant Psychiatrist who specializes in perinatal mental health. Dr Leanne Hayward, who practices for Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Bristol, has warned that there is a risk that serious conditions like post-natal depression are not picked up as early as they should be, because the usual support network available to new mums is missing.

Dr Hayward says she has seen “patients presenting late with symptoms, so they’ve had a mental illness in the perinatal period that hasn’t been picked up”. Some new mothers do not recognize they are suffering from post-natal depression. Immediately after having a baby “a lot of women will experience ‘baby blues’”, according to Dr Hayward. This is where changes to a new mum’s hormone profiles cause them to typically “feel tearful, overwhelmed, irritable, anxious and to have mood swings”. The danger comes when symptoms persist for more than two weeks, as that is a potential sign of something more, and “could be an indicator of post-natal depression”. She explains that “there’s often a tendency to normalise feeling over-tired and tearful as a new mum”, pointing out that looking after a new baby is exhausting, and people will think “of course I’m going to feel run down”.

However; “there’s quite a fine line between feeling tired or run-down and that turning into a depressive condition, or an anxiety disorder, or something more serious.” Telling the difference is often easier for people visiting the new mum than the mum themselves.

In normal times, a new mother would likely be going to ‘mum and baby’ groups and receiving visits from lots of family and friends. This creates a large support network, who can sometimes tell if the mum is struggling before they can. “Without the stream of friends and family visiting”, Dr Hayward says “my suspicion is that things are being missed”, because they were the people who might say “we think you should see somebody”. It is for this reason that the lockdown is an additional risk factor for new mothers.

The key to treating post-natal depression is to recognise the signs and pick it up early. Dr Hayward explains; “Typically the amount of time it takes to get unwell, it takes double that to come out the other side and to recover, so the sooner you can pick it up and get treatment the better.”

Dr Hayward stresses that new mums should “try and get a network set up before you have your baby”. As part of your preparations for parenthood “it’s helpful to have those conversations with partners and friends beforehand” so you know you will have people to call if things become difficult. If there is your own past history of depression or anxiety or family history of bipolar disorder or post-natal depression, the risks are higher, so “open conversations with your relatives” should also be an important part of your preparations.

Dr Hayward says online services can really help; “There are some fantastic online support groups and there are some brilliant charity organisations.” Services like Priory Connect allow people to get access to therapists remotely, which is much easier than trying to get to a physical appointment with a new baby.

 

Notes to editors

For further information, or to arrange an interview with Dr Hayward, who has appeared on broadcast media before, including the BBC, please contact chrisdavies@priorygroup.com

 

About Priory Group

The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.

 

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