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High rate of mental health problems for pregnant women

Posted on 17 January 2018

If you have been following the news lately, you may have seen the reports about the very high rates of mental health problems among pregnant women ­-- up to one in four, which sounds huge. Many commentators were surprised at this, but for me it reflected what I already see in my own anxiety hypnotherapy clinics.

It isn’t surprising really, pregnancy can be wonderful but it can also bring great pressures and life changes which can set off, or bring back traumas and fear and unwelcome patterns of thinking and behaving.

When a pregnant woman arrives at my Harley Street hypnotherapy for anxiety clinic, one of the things that I initially check for are any feelings of guilt or of isolation. There is such a pressure to ‘glow’ throughout pregnancy and if you are struggling in some way then you might feel as though you fall short of expectations and even that it is your fault in some way. 

If you are not feeling on top of the world, isolation, guilt and finding it very difficult to talk about what is going on can make things seem even worse. I hope that this report is another step on the way to us being able to talk about mental health and deal with the problems.

The report’s lead investigator, Louise M Howard, wants more attention paid to the mental health of women before their babies are born.  She identifies midwives as important to this, as they are in regular contact with pregnant women, and suggests, that they ask women about their emotional wellbeing.

The report recommends two questions, which are called the Whooley questions (after professor of medicine Mary Whooley, who devised them) and are simple but go to the heart of the matter.

They are:

  1. During the past month have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or helpless?
  2. During the past month, have you often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Answering positive for both shows a very high possibity of depression. This latest report suggests that asking just these two questions is as accurate in identifying depression as much longer questioning.

And support is so important. Where it happens, it can make a real difference. Following up the report, the BBC interviewed a woman, called Liberty, who had suffered with obsessional and intrusive worries about the wellbeing of her family including her unborn child during her pregnancy.

A sensitive and proactive midwife supported her by offering an ‘open door’ contact so Liberty felt she had support at all time. Later she got some targeted mental health care, but Liberty raised a common worry, that having mental health treatment while pregnant would go on her NHS record and others would find out. Many women express fears about getting help, some fearing their children could be taken away or social services could interfere if they are labelled as mentally ill.

I hope we can get beyond this and every woman can get the help she needs. In the meantime, if you are pregnant or thinking of trying for a baby and you have any concerns then I would advise you to be proactive. Make an appointment, or even just book a telephone chat with a therapist such as myself who specialises in the issues of anxiety and depression and have experience of dealing with the sorts of things which can come up during pregnancy and birth.

A professional with the right tools and techniques can help you protect yourself right from the beginning, or perhaps just give you the reassurance that you will be fine.

Pregnancy can be the most joyous time, so don’t miss out.


Fiona Nicolson on Google+

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