MORE new mothers are struggling with their mental health – and the coronavirus pandemic could be partly to blame, our investigation can reveal.

One suicide survivor is among those calling for more support for new parents after we uncovered a stark increase in referrals to specialist perinatal mental health teams.

Trusts operating across Cumbria recorded a 47 per cent rise in the number of open referrals to those specialist teams between January 2021 and January this year.

And more than 2,000 people were already in contact with the teams when 2022 began, according to N&S analysis of NHS figures.

Experts believe the mental impact of the pandemic and national lockdowns has exacerbated the more well-known challenges linked to pregnancy and new parenthood.

At least one in every ten women will be affected by postnatal depression within a year of giving birth, with psychosis and anxiety also among the lifechanging problems that can develop.

In Jessica Kirton’s case, the traumatic birth of her son marked the beginning of health anxiety so severe, it almost cost her her life.

She has battled for years to overcome mental health problems sparked by childbirth and wants to urge others to seek support.

Ms Kirton said: “Living day to day became an absolute struggle for me.

“I couldn’t bond with my baby and I had thoughts of wanting to suffocate him – I know how wrong that sounds but I was emotionally numb.

“I wrote letters to my parents, my sister and my child saying I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

Cumberland & Westmorland Gazette:
Jessica Kirton, 26, suffered mental illness following the traumatic birth of her child

She said the pandemic and national lockdowns intensified her struggle further – an outcome now recognised more widely.

Perinatal psychiatry consultant Dr Natalie Smith said the impact of the pandemic means health workers are facing “increased complexity” in maternal mental health cases.

And Sarah McMullen from the National Childbirth Trust said Covid-19 had presented a set of new challenges and anxieties for new and expectant mothers.

She added: “This is likely to have contributed to the rise in women seeking help for their mental health.”

READ MORE: 'I wanted to suffocate my son' - one mum shares the heartbreak of postnatal depression

Data for the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust shows there were 805 open referrals to perinatal mental health teams in January – up more than a third on the year before.

And there has been a rise of more than a fifth at the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, with referrals increasing from 495 to 605 in the same period.

Dr Gillian Strachan, consultant perinatal psychiatrist at LSCFT, said having a baby was a particularly risky time for the relapse of existing mental health illnesses and that traumatic births and 'enormous' changes brought about by parenthood could contribute to women suffering with their mental health.

She added that an expansion of the Trust’s community mental health service means they have been able to offer support to more parents, at an earlier stage.

The Trust hopes to help more women in the future by reaching their target of offering specialist perinatal mental health assessments to 10 per cent of those giving birth each year.

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Dr Strachan, Dr Smith and Ms Kirton are among those urging anyone suffering in pregnancy or during the first year of having a baby to seek help as soon as possible.

Ms Kirton said: “If I’d found the correct help earlier, I might not have spiralled like I did.

“Without the right support, whatever you’re going through becomes ten times worse.”

Signs of postnatal depression include a persistent feeling of sadness, low moods, difficulty bonding with your baby, intrusive thoughts, trouble sleeping and a lack of interest in the wider world.

Support is available from midwives, GPs, health visitors, charities and community services.

For more information, visit https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/overview/.