Access to counselling should be improved for pregnant women and new mothers experiencing mental health problems, BACP has said.

Our comments come in response to a study that found new and expectant mothers with mental health problems in Northern Ireland could be left at risk of not receiving adequate support.

The study found midwives and health visitors in Northern Ireland faced challenges including underfunding, overwork and growing levels and complexity of demand.

This meant there were gaps in perinatal services, which cover pregnancy and the year after giving birth, for women who were experiencing depression, anxiety, and postnatal psychotic disorders.

More than 330 midwives and health visitors were interviewed as part of the study, which was carried out by NSPCC Northern Ireland in partnership with the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and the Royal College of Midwives in Northern Ireland.

The report, Time for Action, said that there were similar challenges across the UK, but in Northern Ireland the situation was worse because of a lack of commitment to investment in this area.

BACP is a member of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), a coalition committed to improving the mental health and wellbeing of women and their children in pregnancy and the first year after giving birth.

Worrying gaps

Steve Mulligan, Four Nations Policy and Engagement Lead at BACP said:

“This report demonstrates worrying gaps in mental health support for new and expectant mothers that must be addressed.

“We should be helping women who are in this distressing situation – not leaving them alone to cope.

“BACP would like to see improved access to counselling for all expectant mothers as a matter of course, with those mothers currently experiencing mental ill health to be given priority access.

Critical intervention

He added: “We know that psychological therapies are a critical intervention in helping to reduce the adverse effects of maternal mental health conditions and in reducing depressive symptoms in mothers. We have to ensure women have access to them.”

Between 10 and 20% of women develop a mental illness either during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby.

Women who experience disadvantages, such as social exclusion or poverty, are at a higher risk of developing perinatal depression. T

The risk of depression is twice as high for teenage mothers. 

BACP member Sarah Wheatley, who works with women who have pre and post-natal depression, said that acknowledging that a new mother had a problem with her mental health was an important step.

Acknowledge women's feelings

She added:

“Some women feel very ashamed they are experiencing these feelings. They’re concerned people will think they’re a bad mother. One very prevalent fear is that they’re scared that their kids will be taken away from them. These are really quite terrifying feelings for a mother to go through.

“There is something about acknowledging what a woman is going through that is a very good start. The fact that someone is taking them seriously is a massive relief.”


If you want to seek advice or help about perinatal mental health issues you can find a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist via the BACP’s Therapist Directory.