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Some new and expectant mothers finding Covid-19 crisis 'very challenging'

Up to one in five women experience mental health difficulties in pregnancy or after birth.

Image: Shutterstock/EmiliaUngur

NEW AND EXPECTANT mothers should not hesitate to seek help for mental health issues, especially as they may worsen due to the pandemic, a consultant in the Rotunda Hospital has advised. 

The hospital provides a specialist psychiatry service for women who are thinking of conceiving, those who are pregnant and for women up to a year after they give birth as part of its mental health hub.

Up to one in five women experience mental health difficulties in pregnancy or after birth, according to the HSE.

A consultant of perinatal psychiatry at the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Richard Duffy, said that the pandemic has had a negative impact on many peoples’ mental health so far. 

Perinatal refers to any time from conception up to around a year after birth. 

“A lot of the women who attend our service, some are in direct provision, homeless and some are in quite cramped accommodation and it’s very difficult for people in such circumstances to manage at a time like this after giving birth,” Duffy told TheJournal.ie. 

“For people in those situations, it has definitely been very challenging.

“A lot of people are very reliant on their parents – the mothers and fathers are relying on their parents for support and when they’re deprived of seeing them it adds an extra pressure.” 

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems in pregnancy, affecting about 10-15% of pregnant women.

The mental health hub in the Rotunda can help to treat a wide range of pre-existing and newly developed conditions including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and birth trauma. 

Duffy said in the first few weeks of the pandemic, some new mothers found it a bit easier as there was no pressure to see a lot of people after the birth of their child. 

However, he said overall this time has had a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of pregnant people and mothers with newborn babies. 

“We are seeing women who may be in hospital for four or five days or potentially longer for their birth with no visitors… This can be stressful,” Duffy said.  

For any new or expectant mothers experiencing mental health difficulties, Duffy recommends contacting a GP or the service directly sooner rather than later. 

“For a lot of mental health services, people feel there are a lot of barriers. We try to remove as many of the barriers as possible for women,” he said. 

I think a lot of people are afraid of attending our services. It’s in no way a reflection of somebody’s ability to parent if they are experiencing mental health issues, it’s really common and in most places it’s very treatable.

“For people who are pregnant, it’s really important they try and treat mental health difficulties while they are pregnant instead of waiting to see if it goes away when the baby is born,” Duffy said.  

The mental health hub in the Rotunda also provides some specialist services to Cavan General Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.  

This hub is comprised of consultants, non-consultant hospital doctors, mental health nurses, psychologists, social workers and administration staff members. 

In terms of adjusting some services during the pandemic, a lot of consultations are done over the phone and some therapy is provided via video link.    

A specialist clinic for birth trauma and tokophobia, which is the fear of birth, is also being developed in the Rotunda.  

“Our midwives and our psychologist have really led the way with these clinics and it’s an emerging area,” Duffy said.  

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