Revisiting #HiddenHalf – what's changed?

We wanted to make sure new mums were getting a chance to talk about their emotional health with their GP, a year after securing funding for a dedicated six-week check-up.

The #HiddenHalf story

Two years ago, we surveyed 1,000 women who had recently had a baby and found that half of mums had had a mental health or emotional problem postnatally or during pregnancy.

We were saddened to learn that nearly half of these mums hadn’t had their problem identified by a health professional and hadn’t received any treatment. Many said they were too embarassed or afraid of judgement to seek help.

My six-week check felt more of a tick-box exercise than an actual caring conversation

In response, we launched the #HiddenHalf campaign. We demanded more funding for a dedicated six-week postnatal check-up for mums, so that GPs would have the time to talk to mums about their mental health. In this way, mums with a health problem could get the treatment and support they needed.

Thousands of supporters joined us to call for better postnatal checks for new mums. In England, 80 MPs and three Health Ministers came on board, and the campaign was debated in parliament.

Then, in February 2020, we heard the fantastic news that the English government would fund dedicated GP maternal postnatal checks. With the devastating onset of the pandemic, this seemed more important than ever.

One year on, are new mums still getting a proper six-week GP check?

This year, we decided to revisit the campaign to see if new mums were getting the six-week GP checks that were promised. We asked 893 new mums in England, who’d had a child in the last 12 months, whether they felt able to talk about their mental health in the check-up.

The focus of the mums’ check-up was increasingly on the baby, with 85% saying it was focused mainly or equally on their baby’s health

Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the results. A quarter of the mums we talked to were still not being asked about their emotional or mental health at their six-week GP check-up.

This was the same proportion as two years earlier and equates to a huge number: around 150,000 women each year.

What’s more, the focus of the mums’ check-up was increasingly on the baby, with 85% saying it was focused mainly or equally on their baby’s health, up from 45% in 2019. This is contrary to the terms of the GP contract a year ago.

When they did have an appointment, a quarter said they still didn’t feel comfortable talking openly about a physical or mental health problem, a similar proportion to 2019.

Once again, we’re calling for GPs to be supported to provide dedicated time and space for this crucial appointment.

While we recognise the immense challenges that healthcare workers have been faced with over the past year, the impact of the pandemic on the emotional wellbeing of new families makes it even more important that these vital conversations happen. We need to ensure that every opportunity is taken to detect potential mental health problems and make sure mums get the support they need.

More info

Read our findings in full, including the disappointing statistic that a quarter of new mums didn’t feel comfortable talking openly at these appointments about a physical or mental health problem.

#HiddenHalf success: see the timeline of how our campaign led to funding so that GPs could provide this crucial appointment.

If you’re not feeling OK and need support, Pandas Foundation has a helpline for those affected by perinatal mental illness, and the handles @pandas_uk on Twitter and Instagram. It also has three Facebook groups – Pandas Foundation, PANDAS Dads, and a closed Facebook group. Go to their website to find out more.