Mums of all ages can struggle with their mental health, but NHS Digital figures show young mums under 20 are most likely to be affected.
The second highest age group to experience mental health struggles were those under 19 and the figure gradually decreased and levelled off as mums got older.
“Becoming a parent is a huge, life-changing event for anyone, but young mums can be particularly vulnerable to experiencing perinatal mental health issues,” said Sarah McMullen, head of knowledge at National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
“Young mums can also experience stigma in relation to their age and may feel that others are judging them.
“It’s hugely important that young mums are supported and get the help they need so they feel more able to cope with becoming a parent both practically and emotionally.”
So what should a young mother who is struggling with their mental health do before or after their baby is born?
We spoke to experts from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and Dr Raja Gangopadhyay, a consultant obstetrician with a special interest in Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) and supporter of the postnatal depression charity Pandas Foundation.
If you or anyone you know is struggling, here is what they advise:
1. Be aware of the ‘Red Flag’ symptoms.
It is now recommended that all new mothers and their families should be aware of the ‘Red Flag’ symptoms (MBRRACE 2015).
Dr Gangopadhyay explained this can be useful for young mothers who may not understand why they are having certain negative thoughts.
“Immediate help should be sought if the mother develops one or more of the following ‘Red Flag’ symptoms,” he said.
The four ‘Red Flag’ questions to ask:
Do you have new feelings and thoughts, which you have never had before, which make you disturbed or anxious?
Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming yourself in violent ways?
Are you feeling incompetent as a mother, as though you can’t cope, or feeling distanced or estranged from your baby? Are these feelings persistent?
Do you feel you are getting worse?
Seek help if you answer yes to any of these questions.
2. Speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
“We know it can be really difficult for mums to open up about how they are feeling,” said McMullen. “But the first really important step for young mums who are worried about their mental health is to speak to a health or social care professional, such as a GP, health visitor or midwife.
“They can then support you and signpost relevant services in your area. What’s on offer does differ in different parts of the UK.”
3. Look for specialist support services and peer support groups.
McMullen said in some areas in the UK there will be specialist support services especially for young mums, whilst other areas may have more general perinatal mental health or general mental health support services.
Look to see if there are any groups in your area. PANDAS has a list of local support groups.
The NCT also has a free helpline for mums who have children aged two and under. They run free courses specifically designed for young parents and offer a 90% discount on all courses for expectant parents under the age of 18 and for students under 22.
4. Ensure you have social support.
“It is essential to have good support from partners, family, and friends,” said Dr Gangopadhyay. “If the mothers do not have good social support, then there are other services that could help.
“Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) services support parents aged 24 or under, and a specially-trained family nurse visits the mother at home regularly from early pregnancy until the age of two.
“Another organisation is Home-Start, where volunteers support families (with young children) with postnatal depression, isolation, bereavement and many other challenges.”
5. Don’t feel ashamed.
Dr Gangopadhyay said it’s vital we ensure young mums are aware of the support available to them, because perinatal mental health (PMH) conditions are “one of the leading causes of death of new mothers in the UK”.
“Young mothers struggling with mental health conditions often hesitate to seek help due to shame, guilt, stigma and fear of the child being removed by the social services (which is a myth),” he said. “Therefore education and awareness are essential.
“Perinatal mental health conditions are treatable and full recovery is possible.”
6. And don’t ignore how you are feeling.
As well as feeling ashamed, Dr Gangopadhyay said some young mums may dismiss their thoughts, as they have never experienced mental health problems before.
“It’s important to remember that no one is immune and problems can happen without any warning or any pre-existing mental health condition,” he explained.
“Most importantly it is certainly not anyone’s fault or sign of a bad mother.
“Sometimes this can develop and deteriorate very rapidly and therefore mental health conditions in the perinatal period (during pregnancy and up to one year of childbirth) should not be ignored.
“It is important to remember that it is never too late to seek help. However seeking help early would ensure the early start of the treatment and less suffering.”
Dr Gangopadhyay said thoughts of suicide or harming the baby should not be ignored and if you have them you should not fear seeking help:
He said: “Please contact immediately any of the following: a) your local mental health crisis team, b) Samaritans confidential helpline: 116 123 or c) your local A&E.”
For information and support:
Mind: A mental health charity there to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone. Call: 0300 123 3393.
Pandas Foundation: Charity to support and advise any parent who is experiencing a perinatal mental illness. Call: 0843 28 98 401.
Mothers for Mothers: A postnatal depression support group with information and peer advice. Call: 0117 975 6006.
PNI: A website run by women who have suffered from postnatal illnesses to share personal experiences and offer support.
NCT: The National Childbirth Trust has a support line, as well as a wealth of online resources for new parents. Call: 0300 330 0700.