Written evidence submitted by Mrs Emily Tredget (CYP0017)
Mental health systems need to change to look at prevention as opposed to reactive help.
This means starting to focus on the mental health of young children, and importantly their parents. In fact in an ideal world I would suggest working with all of society regarding their mental health – in a reactionary way, and with parents in a preventative way to stop the ever growing issue.
This is because a child is much more likely to struggle with mental health issues if their parents does.
There is a cost of £8.1bn per year per cohort to society of perinatal mental illness. And a staggering 70% of this is associated with the cost of helping the children of parents who have struggled in the perinatal period, throughout their(the childs’) life time. And these children are more likely to struggle themselves perinatal and so the cycle continues, with a growing number of people struggling with emotional, behavioural and other mental illness issues.
We face an ever growing mental health bill (and indirectly too through education, criminal justice system and productivity) if we do not react.
If a child doesn’t have good bonding with their parent, their development (particularly of parts of the brain which aids emotional and behavioural development such as the hippocampus and the amygdala) can be stunted due to low oxytocin levels etc.
So how can we reduce the impact of a parents’ mental health in the perinatal period on a child? The most ideal way is to minimise the mental health impact on the parent – reduce the likelihood and the severity (via quick reporting and intervention).
Loneliness is one of the key factors in a parent struggling with mental illness – loneliness both physically but also emotionally. If they feel alone, misunderstood, and judged the are more likely to struggle (I speak from personal experience) particularly in a society were new mums typically have come from achieving at work, to perhaps moving to a “child friendly” part of town away from friends and family, and typically now with no religious organisation input.
We need to help new parents to have a community around them – to feel understood and together.
Peer support is a huge help here, and can minimise the instances of PND etc, as well as helping parents to reach for help sooner if they do struggle.
I have been working for 5 years to reduce the stigma of PND and other mental health issues effective parents, as well as helping parents to build community for support. We have made huge strides in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
Right now, the lack of building community is an even bigger issue than usual. This stems from the lack of baby and toddler classes – as this is typically where parents find new-parent friends who then become playdate friends and even life-long friends. They also serve as a huge developmental and social opportunity for babies to learn. And practitioners typically look out for their new-parents and help them if needed.
Right now, the pressure for new parents to return to work financially is also causing huge mental health issues. As their babies are not ready socially to go to childminders/nurseries etc due to lack of baby & toddler classes introducing them to new experiences, this puts a huge mental strain on new parents deciding between giving up a job they need financially, and worrying they could be negatively impacting their babies mental wellness.
Extending maternity/paternity leave, or tax incentivisation’s to enable one parent to remain at home longer-term should they wish to (taxation currently favours both parents working and so many have to even if they would prefer to stay at home) would extend the time a new baby can spend with a parent which would improve their mental health prospects – both of parents and of their children.
All of these suggestions would benefit the parts of our society at most disadvantage also – and help to level the playing field.
I have written a lot about my experience, and where parents can get help on this mental wellness page: https://www.happity.co.uk/blog/article/pnd-support/
I have been working with various government departments throughout Covid and would be happy to advise / consult ongoing from my lived experience as well as years of research and work in this area. I have many more insights and ideas than I can submit here, and would be happy to work with the Government on this.