International Women’s Day: Samaritans calls for action and investment in maternal mental health

By Hazel Nunn


Tuesday 8 March is International Women’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate recent and historic steps towards achieving and maintaining a world where gender doesn’t hold anyone back. But it’s also an opportunity for us all to promise to do more to make this a reality.


  • 1,492 women died by suicide in the UK in 2014
  • Suicide is the second most common cause of death in new mothers
  • 101 pregnant women or new mothers died by suicide between 2009 and 2013
  • Samaritans is calling for investment in maternal mental health

Samaritans' role on International Women’s Day

For us at Samaritans, today is a day to reflect on the progress that’s led to declining suicide rates for women in recent decades – which I wrote more about in my blog last month. It’s also a good opportunity for us to pledge to redouble our efforts to make sure this trend continues - in women from all backgrounds, living in all circumstances and at all stages of their lives.

Too many women still dying by suicide

On International Women’s Day we want to remember all women who have died by suicide and the devastating impact that this will continue to have on their loved ones. The most recent statistics show that 1,492 women in the UK took their own lives in 2014. Although more men die by suicide than women, this remains a stark and sad statistic which we are working hard to change.

Research shows that women with a history of self-harm and women who have suffered child abuse or domestic violence are at an increased risk of suicide. We firmly believe that with the right support every single suicide is preventable. That’s why we’d like to take this opportunity on International Women’s Day to encourage every woman who is struggling to cope with anything in her life to call us free, any time, on 116 123. Emotions can be overwhelming, but you aren’t alone. Samaritans can support you to help you find your way through.

Suicide in new mothers

We also want to raise awareness of the risk of mental health problems and suicide in new mothers. We believe that mental health should be given the same importance as physical health. Although the physical changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth may be the ones that are most immediately obvious, the mind also changes. This makes some women vulnerable during pregnancy and shortly after, particularly those with a history of mental health problems including depression.

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That’s why we are calling for sustained investment and action to reduce the number of women who die by suicide during pregnancy and soon after giving birth.

Suicide in new mothers: the figures

A recent report showed that between 2009 and 2013, 101 pregnant women or new mothers died by suicide. Although this is a small proportion of the total number of women who take their lives, this is still 101 women dying at a time when their families are likely to need them the very most.

Although the risk of suicide during pregnancy is extremely low, things begin to change after a woman has given birth to her child. The vast majority (80) of the 101 deaths occurred in between six weeks and one year after a woman had given birth.

 

With thanks to MBRRACE-UK for supply of infographics

Most worryingly, this means that 1 in 7 women who die between six weeks and one year after giving birth die by suicide. This makes suicide the second most common cause of death in this group of women – with cancer the most common.

Tweet: Suicide is the second most common cause of death 
in new mothers and pregnant women: http://ctt.ec/F2pXU+

A further 49 women died from other mental health related causes between six weeks and one year after giving birth.  In total, this meant nearly a quarter of women who died during or soon after pregnancy died from mental health related causes.

With thanks to MBRRACE-UK for supply of infographics

Sustained investment and action on maternal mental health needed

As maternal death rates fall steadily, mental health problems are likely to account for an ever-increasing proportion of these deaths. Sustained investment and action on maternal mental health is going to be needed.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists hosted an event last week to raise awareness of the importance of maternal mental health and to identify a clear way forward for delivering high quality care for all women who need it.

Like them, we welcome the government’s recent recognition of the importance of maternal mental health and the commitment to significant investment in this area. We believe that now is the time to ensure this commitment translates into action and that all women experiencing mental health problems during or after pregnancy receive high-quality care where and when they need it.  

Talk to us

Samaritans is there round the clock for anyone who is struggling to cope. Call us free any time, from any phone, on 116 123.