This Is How Many New Mothers Actually Experience Mental Health Issues

Illustration: Louisa Cannell
Becoming a parent is a huge life change at the best of times, but when paired with mental health difficulties it can be an even bigger challenge. While a large number of high-profile women – from Adele and Chrissy Teigen to Gwyneth Paltrow – have spoken openly about their struggles with postnatal depression, many new mothers also experience other mental health conditions in the aftermath of giving birth.
According to new research, a very sizeable chunk of mothers in the UK are suffering in this way. BBC Radio 5 live and YouGov surveyed 1,800 British parents and found that more than a third of mothers had dealt with mental health issues related to motherhood, the BBC reported, compared with just 17% of fathers.
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Of the women who had experienced difficulties, with conditions such as acute stress, severe anxiety and postnatal depression, more than two thirds sought professional help, although it's unclear what proportion had actually received treatment. (According to a 2014 mental health survey, only one in eight adults – 12.1% – receive mental health treatment.)
Speaking as part of BBC Radio 5 live's #mumtakeover, Game of Thrones actor and mother of two Lena Heady, who has spoken publicly before about her battle with postnatal depression, described motherhood as more challenging than anything else she'd experienced and nothing like what she'd expected.
“I would say you’re doing a brilliant job," Heady reassured listeners. "I would say trust yourself and ask for help. Don’t be ashamed to say you yell or you feel down, or it’s getting overwhelming. It is the hardest, hardest job in the world. It is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced."
Reassuringly, more than half (60%) of women said they had turned to their friends for emotional support, while 56% had sought it from their partner and 18% went online, presumably on forums such as Mumsnet and Netmums. However, a worrying 15% of mothers and a larger proportion of fathers – 25% – didn't receive any emotional support as parents.
The mothers surveyed by the BBC also reported feeling criticised by others, with a quarter (26%) feeling their own parents were critical of their parenting, followed by their spouse/partner (24%), other family members (18%) and strangers (14%).
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A large proportion of mothers (30%) also claimed to have felt discriminated against at work because they were a parent – more than double the proportion of fathers questioned (14%) – which supports an assertion from Citizens Advice last year that mothers were "losing out" at work and being treated unfairly by employers.
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