Crying shame for new mums and dads left in dark

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THE baby is crying . . . again. Piles of washing are waiting to go in the machine and dishes are stacked in the sink. The nappy bin is overflowing and the carrot and parsnip puree made for lunch is congealing on the table, floor and kitchen walls.

It’s an everyday scene for anyone with a baby and while the majority of parents grin and bear it, too exhausted to do much more, there are those who smile brightly outwardly, while inside they are slowly disintegrating as life seems to spin out of control.

They can reach such a low that suicide – or even infanticide – seems the only option.

That may sound stark, but it’s exactly how post-natal depression, if left untreated, can end. And while such cases are, thankfully, rare, according to new statistics revealed by charity 4Children, as many as 35,000 new mothers could be suffering in silence because they fear the stigma of PND and believe their children will be taken from them if the admit that they are not coping.

Half of women with the condition seek no professional help and thousands are prescribed anti-depressants even though counselling is believed to be more effective. Furthermore, according to the report, Scotland is among the worst in providing specialist services for parents suffering from the mental health condition.

Even in Edinburgh there is only one place that offers help to mothers and fathers who are feeling the pressure of parenthood. As a result, Crossreach, which is based at Wallace House in Boswall Road, last year had a waiting list that stretched to four months before a newly referred PND sufferer could be seen by a trained counsellor.

It was, says manager Tessa Haring, “unacceptable when you are dealing with someone with a tiny baby who is feeling suicidal”.

She adds: “As a result we started to offer more group counselling, which helped to get the numbers down, so now the waiting list runs at four to six weeks. But there are those who do need one-to-one counselling and that is still the main service we offer.

“We also have a creche as otherwise many parents wouldn’t be able to attend at all.

“Of course, times are tight at the moment for the NHS and Lothian is no different, but we just hope that cuts won’t reduce our service as there is increasing demand.”

Crossreach’s PND service, which is part of the social care arm of the Church of Scotland and uses a bluebell as a symbol, sees 140 clients per week (350 a year) and has been running since 1988. Tessa says that without the service, there would be “nothing else”.

“There is nothing else in Edinburgh,” she says. “And in fact we get calls from all over the UK because there are very few services nationwide that support families afflicted by this.

“We have 18 paid staff, but 80 volunteers to offer counselling and other help.”

Crossreach was involved in launching the first PND helpline with Children 1st’s Parentline Scotland two years ago, but she believes the organisation could be doing much more on the ground if the funding was available.

It currently receives half its funding from the Church and just a sixth from NHS Lothian – although 80 per cent of referrals come from health professionals.

She adds: “The stigma which surrounds PND is reducing. Whenever we do talks about it, there’s always someone, be she in her 70s or 80s who’ll say ‘I think I had that’. It’s not new, but I think people were able to deal with it better in the past because there were fewer conflicting demands on women, and families lived closer to each other to provide support.

“Society is very fractured now, and that doesn’t help – neither does the pressure to look good, to get back to your job and into your jeans, and to be the best mother possible.

“Having high-profile people such as Gwyneth Paltrow talking about it always helps. But, of course, it means that demand increases. At the same time, though, because of cuts, health visitors who are on the front line when it comes to spotting sufferers are finding their numbers reduced so their time is increasingly pressured, so there will be many who are suffering in silence.

“Ironically it will be those parents who look like they’re holding it together, though they’re not, who will be missed. Even more so will be the fathers, and we know that while one in six women suffer from PND, one in ten men also suffer and tend to do so with no help.”

One father who received support from Crossreach is 32-year-old David Marshall from Parkhead. He realised he was suffering from PND four months after his daughter Freya was born. “Who knows what my life and hers would be like now if Crossreach hadn’t been there?” he says. “Owning up to my feelings about wanting to hurt the baby to my wife Claire was very hard, but it was the first step. We spoke to the health visitor, who put us in touch with Crossreach.

“I was seen by a counsellor after just three weeks, and went for 18 months. I was surprised to find I wasn’t the only man who suffered PND – but I was shocked that Crossreach was the only service available.

“I believe that the Scottish Government really needs to invest in services like this for the many, many people who suffer from PND.”

However, new investment has been made by NHS Lothian in a new six-bed ward at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, which opened in July. Mums suffering PND so severely they need to be hospitalised, will be treated by a specialist perinatal team, while having their babies with them.

While such a move is welcome, Tessa adds: “Reports like this one from 4Children are important in raising awareness of the issue and just how effective counselling is. In the 12 years I have been there we’ve not had one suicide.

“Funding is always precarious, but we need to ask the question, can we afford not to fund counselling for sufferers of post-natal depression?”