Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health

Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues, including possible causes, sources of treatment and support, and advice for friends and family.

What support and services are there?

If you admit to feeling depressed, anxious or having distressing thoughts (for example, about harming yourself or the baby) you may fear that your baby will be taken away. But it's only in very rare cases that parents are separated from their children, and there's lots of support available to help you make sure that never needs to happen.

It's important to ask for help because you don't need to cope with these difficult experiences alone.

There are many health professionals who you can talk to about your mental health, and who can provide you with support in several different ways. These may include general health and pregnancy support services like:

There are also more specialist services to support you if you are at risk of becoming (or become) more unwell:

You can also access support and services through:

As symptoms of perinatal mental health problems can change a great deal from day-to-day, it might be hard for your health professionals to understand what you're experiencing and to accurately assess your mental health. If you don't feel like you're being offered the help and support you need, you can bring this up with your health professional. See our pages on how to talk to your doctor for more advice.

You may also need to be persistent in asking for the support you need. This can be really hard when you're struggling with your mental health. You can ask a loved one to support you in seeking help, or you might want the support of an advocate. See our pages on advocacy for more information.

"Getting the right support at the right time is so important. If you reach out and don’t get heard the first time, keep trying."

General health and pregnancy support

Your GP

You can always talk to your doctor about your mental health. They can discuss your options for treatment and support, refer you to services and prescribe medication. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information on how to talk to your doctor about your mental health.

Antenatal care

While you're pregnant, you're likely to be in contact with several different health professionals. At some point you should be asked about your mental health and how you're feeling during pregnancy. If they don't ask, you can always bring up any concerns you have. Find out more about antenatal care, and who you'll be seen by, on NHS Choices. The NHS also provides information about pregnancy, and becoming a new parent, at Start4Life.

Your health visitor

Your health visitor can offer support, advice and information on looking after your baby while managing your mental health. You can also talk to them about anything you're worried about, or any difficult feelings or thoughts you're having. They can let you know about other services in your area, or might suggest you speak to your doctor.

Specialist services

Perinatal mental health services

There are specialist mental health services for mothers, called perinatal mental health services, in some parts of the country. This includes specialist nurses and doctors, as well as specialist inpatient wards called mother and baby units (MBUs).

If you've had significant problems with your mental health in the past (for example, if you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or have experienced psychosis) you're likely to be in contact with the perinatal mental health team throughout your pregnancy to check how you're doing, assess your medication and plan your birth.

Unfortunately these services aren't consistently available across the country, and access can be difficult.

Community mental health teams (CMHTs) and crisis teams

If you have a diagnosed mental health problem, you may already be in contact with your local CMHT or crisis team. They may be able to support you if there aren't any specialist perinatal mental health services near you. See our pages on CMHTs and crisis teams for more information.

Mother and baby units (MBUs) and hospitals

Mother and baby units (MBUs) are specialist psychiatric wards in hospitals, enabling you to be admitted to hospital with your baby. The MBU can give you treatment and support for your mental health problem, while also supporting you in developing parenting skills and bonding with your baby. You can see a list of MBUs across the country here.

Unfortunately there are very few MBUs around the country, with limited places. If you are admitted to a regular psychiatric ward, you're unlikely to be able to keep your baby with you – but if you do have to be away from your baby while you're being treated, this should be for as short a time as is safe for you. See our page on going into hospital for more information.

Voluntary organisations and charities

There are a number of voluntary organisations and charities who offer a range of support to families and new parents:

  • Family Lives offers confidential information and advice for parents
  • Mumsnet runs online forums and discussions for parents
  • Home Start offers a service where you are paired with a volunteer who visits you to offer practical and emotional support
  • Family Action offers specialist support services for parents with a mental health problem, including perinatal services
  • NCT runs a range of courses for new parents and has a membership that runs activities and social groups
  • The Association for Postnatal Illness offers information and support, and runs a phoneline
  • The Breastfeeding Network offers nationwide support about breastfeeding for mothers

There are also charities that support people living with specific diagnoses. See our pages on specific perinatal diagnoses for more information.

"It is okay to admit you’re not perfect and need help. Most people will be glad to hear your experience so they can either get the courage to open up or take comfort that they are not alone."

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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