Perinatal mental health

Perinatal mental health (PMH) problems are those which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child. Perinatal mental illness affects up to 20% of new and expectant mums and covers a wide range of conditions.

If left untreated, mental health issues can have significant and long-lasting effects on the woman, the child, and the wider family. Specialist PMH services provide care and treatment for women with complex mental health needs and support the developing relationship between parent and baby. They also offer women with mental health needs advice for planning a pregnancy.

The NHS Long Term Plan builds on the commitments outlined in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health to transform specialist PMH services across England. We aim to ensure that by 2023/24, at least 66,000 women with moderate/complex to severe PMH difficulties can access care and support in the community.

As part of the £2.3bn investment in mental health identified in the Long Term Plan, additional investment will support further service developments for perinatal mental health. Set out in detail in the Mental Health Implementation Plan, this includes:

  • Increasing the availability of specialist PMH community care for women who need ongoing support from 12 months after birth to 24 months
  • Improving access to evidence-based psychological therapies for women and their partners
  • Mental health checks for partners of those accessing specialist PMH community services and signposting to support as required.

We will also work to make it easier to access psychological support for those who experience mental health difficulties arising from, or related to, the maternity experience through the development of Maternity Outreach Clinics (this work will be delivered in partnership with the Maternity Transformation Programme).

Five years ago, access to specialist PMH services was variable and 40% of the country did not have a specialist community team. There are now specialist PMH community services in all 44 local NHS areas in England, and further developments planned. These enabled over 13,000 additional women to receive support from specialist PMH services in 2018/19 against our target of 9,000.

Our national transformation programme also saw four new Mother and Baby Units open in areas of particular need in 2018/19 (in the North West, South West, South East Coast and East of England). This brought the total number of units in England to 19.