Young mum A £337 million annual investment is needed to bring perinatal mental health problems up to standard, according to a new report which estimates that the issues caused by mental ill health in new mothers currently costs the UK £8.1 billion each year.

The report, ‘The costs of perinatal mental health problems’, by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Centre for Mental Health, found that nearly three-quarters (72%) of this cost relates to adverse impacts on the child rather than the mother.

This is part of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s ‘Everyone’s Business’ campaign, which is appealing to government and health commissioners to ensure that all women who experience perinatal mental health problems receive the care they and their families need, wherever and whenever they need it.

Other key findings of the report, led by Annette Bauer and Professor Martin Knapp from LSE's Personal Social Services Research Unit are:
• Perinatal depression, anxiety and psychosis together carry a total long-term cost to society of about £8.1 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK
• More than a fifth of total costs (£1.7 billion) are borne by the public sector, with the bulk of these falling on the NHS and social services (£1.2 billion)
• Other costs include loss of earnings/impact on someone’s ability to work and quality of life effects.

Patchy provision 
While there is guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and other national bodies on the treatment of mental illness during and after pregnancy, current provision is best described as patchy, with significant variations in coverage around the country, the report says.

For instance, about half of all cases of perinatal depression and anxiety go undetected and many of those which are detected fail to receive evidence-based forms of treatment.

Likewise, specialist perinatal mental health services are needed for women with complex or severe conditions, but less than 15% of localities provide these at the full level NICE recommends and more than 40% provide no service at all.

“Our findings show that mothers’ mental health is vital to the economy and to society as a whole, particularly because of the potential negative impact that untreated maternal mental health problems may have on children,” said Bauer. “In order to protect the family’s long-term health, intervention needs to start before the child is born, or shortly after because the potential benefits are very high and the costs could be fully recovered in a short time frame.”

Dr Alain Gregoire, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, added: “Perinatal mental health problems are common and costly. They affect up to 20% of women at some point during pregnancy or in the year after childbirth and are a major public health issue impacting on both women and baby. The good news is that women recover when they get the right treatment. It is vital that all women, wherever they live, get the specialist help they need.”

Emily Slater, Everyone’s Business campaign manager, called for action: “The report shows there can be no more excuses: national and local authorities, commissioners and the UK government must act now to ensure specialist perinatal mental health services are available throughout the UK. Only then can we expect to fully reduce any tragically avoidable human and economic costs.”