Mental health link to one-in-four new mother deaths, report reveals

A quarter of deaths of new mothers can be attributed to mental health problems, according to research published today.

The report, Saving lives, Improving Mothers' Care, compiled by research group MBRRACE, looked at maternal deaths between 2011 and 2013 and found that one in four of those between six weeks and a year after giving birth were linked to mental health issues.

The findings also show one in seven who died in this timeframe were as a result of suicide, while mental health problems were the key factors in the deaths of one in 11 new mothers within the first six weeks of giving birth.

The president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is among a number of child and family health experts who are calling on the government to reverse its planned £200m of cuts to public health budgets next year because of the potential damage it could cause to support for new mothers.

Professor Neena Modi said: "To support women, and subsequently their children, we must ensure every family has access to health visiting services. They are ideally placed to identify early signs of maternal mental ill-health.

"If this [£200million funding cut] goes ahead, health visiting will be placed under immense strain, adding to the current crisis facing public health and the NHS's financial burden in the long term."

Among the key recommendations of the report are:

  • More investment in efforts to target and support women with mental health problems, in particular through outreach services
  • Providing emergency and out-of-hours care for pregnant and postnatal women at risk of a mental health crisis
  • Providing specialist outreach support to women with substance misues issues
  • Better training among mental health specialists to spot mental health problems after birth

The report follows the results of a survey released earlier this week by the Institute of Health Visitors which found that long-term under-resourcing of the profession and heavy workloads were preventing many health visitors from meeting government recommendations to carry out mental health assessments with new mothers.