Journeys to Recovery - Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy.

This year Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week runs from Monday 3 to Sunday 9 May.

It’s all about raising awareness of perinatal mental health problems, advocating for women affected by it, changing attitudes and helping families access the information, care and support they need to recover.

What is maternal mental health?

Having a new baby is generally seen as a time of great excitement and many women feel a lot of pressure to appear happy during the weeks after giving birth. The reality is that up to 70% of new mums experience the ‘baby blues’ in the first week or so after the birth. The exhaustion of giving birth, a drop in hormones, lack of sleep and being suddenly responsible for a new baby can have a big impact on mood.

These are completely normal feelings and usually only last for a few days and not longer than two weeks after giving birth. If, however, these feelings continue or get worse and start to affect day-to-day life it may be a sign of postnatal depression or another mental health problem which may need professional support.

Many women feel guilty or embarrassed about these feelings or worry that they will be judged as a ‘bad parent’ which can stop them asking for the support that they need to feel well and bond with their baby.

The Leeds Perinatal Mental Health Service has developed a short animated film with mums in Leeds talking about the pressures new parents can face

The past year during the Coronavirus pandemic has no doubt added additional pressures to new parents with restrictions on visitors at hospitals and limits to socialising which has led to people feeling isolated from their usual support networks.

The message from Leeds NHS services is that if you have been affected by mental illness in the past and are planning a pregnancy, are experiencing some problems during your pregnancy or now your new baby has arrived, it is important to remember you are never alone and lots of help is available even though access to care may look a little different right now.

Reaching out for support

There are lots of resources and information for new parents in Leeds about what support is available on the Mindwell Leeds website.

If people are struggling, it’s important for them to talk to their midwife, GP or health visitor, even if they don’t think that they have a specific mental health problem. Support can be wide ranging from advice and help from health care professionals, medication, therapy, help from the voluntary sector and safe peer support. It’s likely that most care can be provided by their GP, health visitor or through local counselling services.

In Leeds mums may be referred by a health professional to the Perinatal Mental Health Service which provides specialist assessment and support to women experiencing mental health difficulties in the perinatal period. The perinatal period is during childbirth and up until your baby is one year of age. The service also provides inpatient care at the Yorkshire and Humber Mother and Baby Unit in Leeds, outreach services in the community and online support groups for its service users such as the Diverse Mum’s Group and Baby Massage for mums recovering from mental ill health.

Gopinath Narayan, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist with the service said: “The pandemic has made it especially hard for people to access support for their mental health. Delivering a virtual group programme has been vital in ensuring that the patients we are working with are able to have the support of others who are experiencing similar issues and the opportunity to learn new ways of managing their mental health through our group programme.”

Sharing Journeys to Recovery

The Leeds Perinatal Mental Health Service, Leeds Teaching Hospital Maternity Service and other local health and care partners work together to remove barriers to services so all families who need services can access them.

The Clinical Services Inclusion Team are usually out and about meeting people in Leeds’ diverse communities to introduce services and help reduce the stigma of asking for help. This year their work has continued remotely and they have also been taking part in local radio interviews to help publicise the support that is available.

Coming up on Wednesday 5 May there will be an interview on Akash Radio Leeds from 4.30-5.00pm featuring an ex-service user along with members of the Perinatal Mental Health Service team – Gopinath Narayan, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Balvinder Kaur Dosanjh, Clinical Engagement, Access and Inclusion Co-ordinator. The theme of discussion will be ‘Lived experiences – Through the eyes of a patient’ and new parents and parents-to-be are encouraged to tune in.

Balvinder Kaur Dosanjh, Clinical Engagement, Access and Inclusion Co-ordinator commented: “The team are working very hard to try and reach out to diverse communities and support them to feel they can ask for help when they need it the most. We recognise that asking for help can be difficult. When a patient is referred to our service we want people to know that they will not be judged and will be listened to, treated fairly and their information kept in the of strictest confidence.”

You can also listen to other interviews from the past year online –

During the awareness week Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust will be sharing articles, blogs and vlogs on social media from the service and its service users.

People affected by perinatal mental health challenges are being reassured that although recovery can look different for everyone, recovery is possible.

Support for partners

Up to one in 25 new partners experience depression or a problem with their emotional wellbeing after having a baby. Many people think that they can’t talk about how they’re feeling because they need to appear strong for their partner. It can also feel like there isn’t an opportunity for partners to ask for help.

However, finding the right support is not only important for themselves but for the wellbeing of their family as well.

New parents can find out what support is available for their partners on the Mindwell website.

Dad Pad® is an information pack in digital form developed by dads and the NHS to help fathers of all ages prepare for family life. It’s available as a free app – see the Dad Pad website for more for information.

For service users with the Leeds Perinatal Mental Health Service there is access to a Partners Peer Support Worker, Errol Murray, who provides advice and support to partners of service users.

National resources

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is organised and led by the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership UK (PMHP UK).

PMHP UK is a small group of individuals, including women with lived experience, who came together to raise awareness of maternal mental health.

During the week they will be running a variety of live sessions on social media where people will be able to interact with the hosts and ask questions. Topics will cover maternal mental health in the Muslim community, LGBTQ parenting, black maternal mental health and discussions about different  therapies and self-care.

Facebook page:

Instagram page: @perinatalmhpart