Maternal suicide: How do we reduce our 'sobering' rates?

Source: 1News

A clinical psychologist says society should do more for mothers, after a new report identified suicide as the leading cause of death for pregnant women and new mums.

The Helen Clark Foundation called for maternal mental health to be a policy priority in order to "curb the sobering statistics" in a report released on Saturday.

At least 10 maternal suicides are reported every year, according to the report, and New Zealand's rate of maternal suicide is five times higher per capita than the UK.

It's believed that one in seven Kiwi women suffer from postnatal depression after giving birth.

READ MORE: More conversations needed on maternal mental health - advocates

The report made a number of recommendations including improving access to public housing, increasing funding for midwifery services, extending ACC coverage to birth injuries, and making it easier to get culturally-appropriate support for distressed parents.

A pregnant mother.

Clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire told 1News the signs of maternal depression were highly varied.

She said communities needed to come together to support pregnant women and new mums.

"You have perinatal women, during pregnancy or after birth, that are depressed - so you might see that low mood, hopelessness, not attaching well to the baby or feeling disconnected from those around," she said.

"On the other side, you can also have high anxiety - so you might actually see women that are more agitated, frustrated, panicky, even in that obsessive-compulsive way where they might be obsessed about sleep or eating for the baby."

She said there needed to be "community-wide" awareness of maternal depression and how to support women.

"We need to look to te ao Māori, for example, which in its cultural practices shows that the mother and baby connection needs to be sacred and that the community needs to come together to look after mothers in that early instance," she said.

Maguire said people should offer time to look after children so that mothers can get breaks, support women to get to appointments, and ensure that basic needs like food are fulfilled.

"Systemically, we need to be [asking]: 'how do we ensure that if people are in challenge or if they are in crisis, that there are services for them to get access to?'"

She said general practitioners were often carrying the load on the issue as specialist services could be hard to access.

Maguire said the report's findings "hit the nail on the head" and that the issue touched on systemic issues around health, housing and social issues for many marginalised groups.

"For any woman, it is a vulnerable period of time, but if you look at those who are living in poverty, that don't have a safe and stable roof to live under, or it's difficult to put food on the table, that is a risk factor."