PATH, a new project to support parents experiencing perinatal mental illness launches today

Date added: 13 May 2021
  • New and expectant parents with PMI expressed feelings of low mood and depression (59%), stress (55%) and loneliness (35%)
  • The most common barriers to seeking help were feeling ashamed (45%), seeming like a ‘bad parent’ (43%), pressure to be ‘perfect’ (41%) and fears of being a burden (38%)
  • Supporting new parents through pregnancy, labour and during the fourth trimester is the best way to tackle perinatal mental illness

New research released today by the PATH partnership*, shows worrying levels of poor mental health experienced by parents during their pregnancy or in the first year after birth and their lack of confidence to seek support.

When it came to seeking help, barriers for new mums and dads reaching out included a feeling of shame, appearing like a ‘bad parent’ and increased fears of becoming a burden to family and friends. Spending increased time on social media platforms had an adverse effect with 44% reporting that social media only shows the 'perfect' picture of parenthood, 40% felt it did not represent the reality of having a baby and 20% expressed that social media actually increased their anxiety during PMI. 

These experiences seem to have worsened for new parents during COVID-19. Although some parents said they continued to have confidence in their healthcare providers during the pandemic, 2 out of 3 (57%) said attending appointments alone caused feelings of anxiety and 35% felt lonely. Overall, 26% felt the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental ill health during pregnancy and after birth.

Dr Bosky Nair, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist at Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust UK said, “The findings from this research paint a very sad but true description of poor mental health in new and expectant parents; 95% parents surveyed experienced problems or challenges during the fourth trimester and it is important that we acknowledge becoming a parent is hard and it is common to struggle. COVID-19 has magnified the issue, but it is important that as a society we learn lessons from it and safeguard future parents.”

The survey also explored how men and women experience perinatal mental health differently. Mums surveyed reported tearfulness (59%), depression (63%), low self-esteem (57%) and suicidal thoughts (27%). Dads surveyed reported stress (34%) and over twice as many men survey reported experiencing thoughts of harm to their baby compared to women surveyed (19% vs 8% respectively). Men surveyed were more likely than women surveyed to report problems with drug or alcohol abuse as a result of their PMI. Over 1 in 5 (22%) parents surveyed described their labour as traumatic, but men surveyed (20%) were more likely to be affected by PTSD from witnessing a traumatic birth as part of their perinatal mental illness than women (13%).

Mark Williams, mental health campaigner and founder of Fathers Reaching Out, who also experienced PMI, said “When I found out I was going to be a dad, I was so happy. I pictured what it was going to be like, this instant bond – cutting the umbilical cord. But it didn’t happen that way. My wife experienced a traumatic birth and I was so scared thinking I might lose my wife and child. I struggled to cope, turned to alcohol and felt suicidal. Looking back, I wish I had really prepared myself for the reality that men can experience PMI too and I wish I had a service like PATH available to me. Do not suffer in silence, PMI is more common than you think in both men and women. Getting the help you need is the right thing to do for those around you.”

Sandra Igwe, best-selling children’s author and founder of The Motherhood group, who experienced PMI, said, “I had a particularly traumatic labour, I left hospital carrying my baby, and a deep trauma. Looking back, I really wished I had reached out for help sooner than I did, or confided in my friends and family for a lifeline. I wanted to seem like I was a good mother, so I suffered in silence. With the right help and support, you will get better. Speaking as someone who has experienced PMI first hand - reach out, talk and get help.”

21% of those surveyed had not experienced mental ill health prior to their perinatal mental health illness. When asked what information, if any, would help support and prepare new and expecting parents, the most popular responses were understanding who they could contact if they are experiencing emotional distress, knowing more about perinatal mental illness and the variety of support groups available.

Recognising this unmet need for new and expecting parents experiencing PMI, PATH a new project launching today has been created with the aim to enable families to prevent PMI through timely signposting to the health care professionals that can help, such as midwives, GPs and health visitors and enabling prepared parenting. The project also supports healthcare professionals to recognise and manage mild to moderate PMI, destigmatise PMI amongst new and expecting mums and dads/partners and ultimately achieve happier and healthier families.

PATH aims to help new and expectant parents three key ways:

  • Reach parents with digital and community initiatives for families, including a new support hub
  • Reach healthcare professionals with PATH resources and training designed to increase their confidence to recognise PMI symptoms and provide appropriate care
  • Reach employers with resources that help them better support maternity and paternity leave and parents’ return to work

Access PATH for more information about the project as well as signposting to help and support, head to the PATH website

For more information please contact; Imogen Towner, Communications Officer: