General practitioners and other health professionals dealing with pregnant women have been asked to keep a strict watch on their mental health , during and after pregnancy.
The appeal has come from UK's government watchdog group the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, (NICE).
According to them, one in every seven women have some sort of mental health disorder during and after pregnancy. This refers also to the 'baby blues' that quite a few number of young mothers admit to. It includes feelings of depression, hopelessness, and self-pity and can extent to eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even schizophrenia.
NICE recommends that GPs ask three questions to their expecting patients at every antenatal checkup or to young mothers. These are:
· Were you feeling depressed, down or hopeless during the last month?
· Do you feel little pleasure or interest in what you do?
· Do you feel you need any help or anything to deal with this problem?
The important thing stresses NICE, is that the answers to these questions are taken down, and acted upon.
A former patient Fiona Shaw, who went through severe postnatal depression, has contributed part of the guidelines. She recalls that she felt that she was not being given the care she required, which led to her harming herself by not eating and not leaving her bed. Finally a sympathetic doctor advised electro-convulsive therapy and psychotherapy, which resolved the problem.
Shaw adds: "Many women are concerned they will not be listened to if they come forward, or that they will be judged, or that their condition is not serious enough to warrant help from a healthcare professional."
The NICE guidance states that women needing psychological treatment should normally be seen within one month and no longer than three months after an initial assessment.
Treatments may include counseling or anti-depressants, with the health worker explaining how medication may affect breastfeeding.
Says Steve Pilling, consultant clinical psychologist at University College London, "Children who had mothers who had signs of anxiety tended not to do as well in terms of educational performance. This impact is very significant if looked at overall across the country."
According to him, the NICE guidelines must be implemented as depression in mothers has a long-term detrimental effect on their children.