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

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

Figures for two North East NHS trusts show a 20 per cent rise in the number of open referrals to their specialist teams between January 2021 and January this year.

Read more: Stockton mum reveals she wanted to 'kill' son after postnatal depression

And more than 5,000 people were already in contact with those services in January, according to Echo analysis of NHS statistics.

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.

Read more: Suicide survivors share their darkest days 

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.

The Stockton woman has battled for years to overcome mental illnesses sparked by childbirth and wants to urge others to seek support.

The Northern Echo:

Jessica Kirton, 26, suffered with her mental health following the birth of her son

Ms Kirton, 26, 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.”

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

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: Echo reveals rise in 'brutal and indiscriminate' evictions 

Perinatal psychiatry consultant Dr Natalie Smith, who works for the Tees Esk and Wear Valley Trust, said the impact of the pandemic meant health workers were facing “increased complexity” in maternal mental health cases.

Data for the trust shows there were 425 open referrals to perinatal mental health teams in January, compared to 365 the year before – a 16 per cent increase.

Referrals across the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust went up 22 per cent in the same period, from 495 to 605.

Dr Smith joined Ms Kirton in urging new mothers experiencing mental health problems to seek help.

She said becoming a mother was an “enormous life event” that is often accompanied by sleep deprivation, added responsibility, changes in relationships and financial worries.

Urging women not to face this on their own, she said: “Women may develop anxiety, depression, and more severe illnesses such as psychosis, which can be very scary.

“If you feel your mental health is affected, please seek help and support as soon as possible.”

The Northern Echo:

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, health visitors, charities, GPs and community services.

For more information, visit

If you are in need of support you can contact the following:

- Samaritans are available, day or night, 365 days of the year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at, or visit to find your nearest branch.

- If U Care Share on 0191 387 5661 or text IUCS to 85258

- SANE on 07984 967 708, Calm on 0800 58 58 58

- Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust crisis line 0800 0516 171.


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