‘Young mothers losing their lives’ says the RCM as it calls for better perinatal mental health support

on 18 October 2023 RCM Maternity Services Midwifery Government NHS Maternal Mental health

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is warning that young mothers need much more vital perinatal mental health support to reverse the rising trend of postnatal depression among teenage mothers.

A report by The Maternal Mental Health Alliance and Children’s and Young people’s Mental Health Coalition found that postnatal depression is up to twice as prevalent in teenage mothers compared to those over 20. Tragically this is leading to a rise in teenage maternal suicides.

Commenting on the report’s findings The RCM’s Director for Midwifery Policy and Practice, Sally Ashton May said:

“These findings make for sobering reading. Tragically teenage and young mothers are losing their lives all because they don’t have the right mental health support. This is all the more horrific and sadder as many of these deaths may have been preventable if the correct perinatal mental health support been available when needed. We know that young mothers are at an increased risk of experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and up to one year after birth. In fact mental illness leading to suicide is now one of the leading causes of maternal death, particularly among young women. The Government needs to urgently put every resource into how it can help them, not least because approximately 1 in 4 births in England and Wales are to young people.

“Midwives play a vital role in helping young mothers with their mental health but, importantly they need to be given the time to do this. There needs to be investment in ensuring that all midwives receive training, so that all mothers have access to specialist midwives within their service. We estimate that fewer than 350 additional specialist perinatal mental health midwives could bring about the results that we all want to see - and that these young women deserve. We urge the Government to act now to support the provisions around perinatal mental health and counselling recommended in the recent independent pregnancy loss review.”

The RCM recently released its new Perinatal mental; health ‘roadmap’ to improve perinatal mental health care in the UK which noted a similar picture. It found that one in five women will experience mental ill-health during pregnancy and that suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in new mothers up to 6 weeks after birth.

The RCM believes that midwives are only part of the solution, though. There needs to be a fundamental shift in how mental health is viewed. Women and their families need the right support from midwives underpinned by the right training. In short, there needs to be a comprehensive review of midwifery training through a perinatal mental health lens. Furthermore, all maternity services should have at least one midwife who specialises in perinatal mental health and NHS leaders need to commission a midwifery workforce framework looking at the future planning of women’s perinatal mental health needs.

The full report can be found here.

The full perinatal mental health roadmap can found here.