The ‘Newton Oakley Education: Food for Thought’ series aims to provide you with learning sparks and talking points to share in staff meetings, training or in your professional library.
Today I attended a webinar held by the Centre for Mental Health about ‘Maternal Mental Health During a Pandemic’ which covered the centre’s new rapid evidence review. While many practitioners working within early years education may not work directly with parents during the perinatal period, it is useful to have a broad understanding of the implications of poor maternal (and paternal!) mental health support during children’s early life. Conversations about service cuts are rife within the early years field but often those conversations don’t extend to discussions about the root cause: how political and local board decisions directly impact your work.
We already know that the perinatal period is a time of significant risk to women’s mental health, with up to two in ten women suffering some form of mental health difficulty, without factoring in the new stresses and significant life changes brought about by a global pandemic (exacerbation of inequality, social isolation, job losses and insecurity, health anxiety, caring responsibilities, etc.).
From early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre for Mental Health and Maternal Mental Health Alliance were concerned about the increased mental health challenges that women in pregnancy and early motherhood were facing as a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions introduced to tackle it. The result of this, was ‘Maternal mental health during a pandemic‘, a rapid evidence review of the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of women during pregnancy and after they’ve given birth, and the support that’s been available during the lockdowns and interim periods. They found that: “women and their families have faced extra pressures on their mental health, including anxiety about giving birth during lockdown or about becoming unwell, fears about losing employment, and increasing levels of domestic violence. It finds that some groups of women face a higher than average risk of poor mental health, including women of colour and women experiencing economic deprivation.”
These findings reflect the impact of budget-cuts and service restrictions prior to the start of the pandemic, which left the NHS and PVI sector organisations unable to respond most effectively. They are a clarion call for the UK Government to commit to fully supporting women’s mental health during the perinatal period and to providing this both in the aftermath of the pandemic and in any future crisis situation.
I was particularly pleased to hear Dr Alain Gregoire (who I first heard on BBC One’s documentary ‘My Baby, Psychosis and Me‘) talk about the vital importance of the earliest childhood experiences – both for children and future society, but also for new parents.
Investment in early years has far-reaching implications – £ for £, it is one of the most effective means to building better lives – it is life-changing.
- Reflect on the butterfly effect-like nature of children’s early experiences: what impact can poor parental mental health have on children’s well-being, development and learning?
- What impact does poor parental mental health have on parents’ ability and confidence to parent?
- How can your service support parents at this time, when social distancing is necessary? Think about the challenges parents faced in the report.
- Mental health issues can prevent people from accessing services that can help them – how do you engage parents who seem disinterested or anxious about engaging with your service?
- What local mental health services do you know of? Are you confident in signposting parents and carers to these? Are you confident in identifying parents, carers or colleagues in need of additional mental health or well-being support?
- You may employ or work alongside practitioners who are new parents – if so, you may wish to reflect on the support you provide to them or gather their feedback, to see if you can improve your approach. This does not need to cost money – a lot of positive, supportive/preventative approaches to mental health are about relationships and communication.
- Take action: if early years, maternity or psychological services have been cut in your area, write to your MP, and find out what your local health commissioning group is planning to do. Make your professional voice heard – especially if you know parents in your area are struggling or missing out on vital services, from playgroups to talking therapy to SureStart weigh and play sessions.