Published: 20 Apr 2023  |  Category: Healthcare, Mental Health  |  Stage: We are preparing for a family to arrive | We have welcomed a family

Refugee women and postnatal mental health

We worked with Dr Andia Papadopoulou, a Clinical Psychologist, to provide information about refugee women and postnatal mental health

We know that 12-20% of women will experience mental health difficulties like depression and anxiety during pregnancy and during the first 2 years of their baby’s life (the postnatal period), and refugee women are at an even increased risk of developing postnatal mental health difficulties.

The associated stress, uncertainty, and trauma of the refugee experience may affect a woman’s mental health both during and after pregnancy. In addition, the loss of cultural, social and material resources needed to provide a secure and comfortable experience for refugee mothers and their babies can further exacerbate mental health conditions such as anxiety and low mood. It can subsequently affect the bonding with her baby and the care of her children with adverse consequences for the children’s emotional, behavioural, cognitive and psychological development. This is why low level of social support is considered an important risk factor for perinatal depression among refugee women.

Following resettlement, pregnant refugee women tend to engage less than other women with maternity services as they may lack the knowledge of the UK healthcare system or due to language barriers that may make universal maternity care a frightening experience.

It is therefore really important that you help refugee women to access the right support for their mental health so that they can continue to care well for themselves, and for their children and families whose wellbeing is dependent on them.

GPs can carry out mental health assessments and refer on to specialist mental health teams, and so your first port of call would be to link refugee women with their GP.

If a refugee woman is pregnant, it is paramount that she engages with her midwifery team who have training in screening for a range of mental health conditions and know who to refer on so that her mental health is supported during pregnancy. For refugee women with a baby or children under 1 year of age, their Health Visitor is equally qualified to screen for perinatal mental health difficulties, offer a homebased intervention or refer on to more specialist perinatal mental health services. Most importantly, community-based support being accessible to refugee women and responsive to their needs as women, and/or as parents, is considered an effective way of minimizing the risk of mental health conditions. Consider introducing refugee women to local group activities, parenting groups and skills-based activities like English classes so they can expand their social networks of support.

Resources to be aware of

Read our interview with Mirvat, who speaks openly about her experience of having a child in the UK and how this differed from having children in Syria and Lebanon: Experts by Experience: The maternity experience of a Syrian mother