Open response to The Spectator re: irresponsible article on PND

To whom it may concern,

I read your article entitled “Beware the baby-snatchers: how social services can ruin your family” over the weekend. In fact, I read it twice. The first time, I thought I had missed something and wasn’t sure if my feelings were misplaced. The second time, as I came to the end, I was sure they were not.  I haven’t linked to the article, which is still available online, as I don’t want to promote it.

I am disgusted, angry, hurt and very disappointed, to name but a few of my reactions, with how you handled the topic  – I can assure you – I am not the only one.  Here is why I feel as I do…

I have Postnatal Depression. I am currently on my journey of recovery and have been trying to raise awareness of the illness and provide hope for anyone else who is struggling. I am angry because hope is something your article is severely lacking, for anyone in the midst of trauma. Instead, your piece is full of irresponsible (my word) language and scaremongering. This week, I have tried to reflect on your reasons for writing the piece and what you hoped to gain from it, other than readers and controversy. I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you what you have achieved  – to cause fear and sensationalism.

You have shared the story of a mother who is reported to suffer from PND and because of it faced her child being taken into care. Using shameful language and images e.g. “the slightest whiff of a mother unable to cope, and they (the authorities) swoop down, ready to whisk the baby away”. The premise of the article seems to be that the authorities (Social Services etc) are waiting to pounce on anyone who is struggling, and take their child into care. It even goes on to that suggest the authorities are somehow financially benefitting, by assuring fostering and adoption places, for the children it places an order on. You have suggested there is a “new fashion for removing babies from their natural families”. In my opinion, all of this is completely unacceptable language, as little evidence or research is given to support these massive claims. This is journalism at its worst.

I cannot imagine the pain any family must go through, if a child is taken into care. I cannot say anything about the one individual case you have reported on, except that my heart goes out to all involved. Postnatal Depression is hard enough, without having all of this to deal with. But it does lead me to think IF PND was the only reason this family was in the situation, how shocking must the support available be, for the illness to lead to this suggested outcome? Perhaps, the story that needs to be investigated is one that shines a light on the improvements required, to the help and support, available for Mum’s with PND. Instead, you have provided an article that increases the stigma around PND (or any mental illness) and furthers the fears that many mums and families feel, around asking for help when they are struggling.

I think, perhaps, that is why I am so angry. Many mums struggle with PND and many do so alone, isolated and afraid of how they are feeling and what might happen to them, and their children, if they reach out for support. There is no shame and no blame with PND, but that is what is routinely felt by suffers and that is an attitude which your article perpetrated. I hope to goodness, anyone who is struggling has not stumbled on your article, but I fear that is not the case.

The article is full of fear and devoid of well researched facts. So, allow me to share some with you, that might be helpful to anyone who is currently struggling –

  1. The well-known statistic is that PND effects 1 in 10 mothers. However, the following answer to a Parliamentary Question, which I requested be asked this week, shows –  “The NHS Improving Quality report; Improving Access to Perinatal Mental Health Services in England – A review (published September 2015), says that post-natal depression prevalence within the first few post-natal months is estimated to be 13%. This suggests that following the 687,346 maternities in 2014 in England and Wales, there were around 90,000 women in 2014 who suffered from post-natal depression in the first few post-natal months.“* Now, that’s a heck of a lot of women! And a heck of a lot of women whose children are not in care nor are in the process of being taken into care. In fact, it’s now thought, by some, the number of women struggling with PND may be as many as 3 in 10*.

To go further, another answer to a question, illuminates “The guidance references appropriate sharing of information with healthcare professionals involved in the woman’s care, respecting confidentiality and rights of the child (particularly in relation to girls and young women) and involving family and carers, with the agreement of the woman. There is no specific reference to social services, nor does it suggest that diagnoses should be routinely shared with them. The majority of diagnoses take place in primary care. If a woman is diagnosed with post-natal depression whilst being cared for within specialised services, including perinatal mental health services, routine notification to social services for patients does not take place. Where child protection concerns arise, a notification to social services would occur prior to discharge”*.

Therefore, a diagnosis of PND is not routinely shared with Social Services, unless there are other factors in place, currently or in the past that could cause concern. This would challenge your assertion, that ‘her condition was a red code to the authorities’ – PND is not a ‘red code’ to Social Services, unless associated alongside another good reason. So please, if you are struggling, do not fear seeking help. Social Services will not be knocking on your door, simply because you admit to being unwell and are given a PND diagnosis. Despite the depths of my mental health, they have not been at mine!

2. Postnatal Depression is not the ‘baby blues’ which you suggest by writing “one in ten mothers develops the ‘baby blues’, so she had every expectation of sympathy”. No, one in ten mothers is not the statistic for the ‘baby blues’, it is the common statistic for PND.  PND and Baby Blues are NOT one in the same thing. Baby blues tends to be short-term, for, at most, the first few weeks after a mum gives birth, and is thought to be linked to the hormonal and chemical changes the body has gone through. PND is different, normally requiring some sort of support – self-help, therapy and possibly medication. It does not ‘just go away over night’, in the way baby blues might. Information on the difference between the two can be helpfully found on the NHS website here. I am frustrated with the need to differentiate between the two, as many women are confused about what they are feeling and why, so it is easy for PND to be brushed off as simply baby blues. This, therefore, takes longer for the mum to get the treatment and help she needs.

3. Most mums recover from Postnatal Depression. It is a horrible and hateful illness but there is help and hope and it does not have to have the last word. I mention this because, some who read your article might not have picked that up. Help is available from your GP, Health Visitor, Counselling, CBT, Mental Health Centre, Sure Start, Home Start to name but a few. You didn’t mention many of these pathways directly, so I feel the need to put them out there. If you are struggling  – please ask for help – you will not and should not be judged.

4. I fully accept that being separated from your child must be horrendous. I cannot begin to imagine, or understand, the full extent of the pain and suffering that goes with it. But as the evidence has shown, with regards to PND, it is not normal or even routine practice. I have attached a link, following another Parliamentary Question, that shows the main reasons why children were taken into care*. PND, by itself, does not appear on this list at all! However, if you are genuinely interested in mothers and babies being separated, by PND and Perinatal Mental Health issues, perhaps you could join the campaign to see more Mother and Baby Unit’s across the country. The current story line, of Stacey Branning, in Eastenders shows the need for mothers not to be separated from their baby, due to the illness. Off screen, there are many who are campaigning for this to be available to all women, without having to travel 100’s of miles away from family and support. There is currently a campaign in York and Northern Ireland, that I know of personally. It would be great if you would focus attention on that issue to help raise awareness of this serious need.

Mental Health is a very serious issue and one that must be dealt with as such. I have been blogging my journey with Postnatal Depression for the past 4 months. I do so to raise awareness, help break the stigma and offer my story as hope and help to anyone on a similar journey. I am very aware of the need to be honest but to also measure my words. No two stories are the same, what has happened to me might not happen to someone else. I’m sure there are times I have got it wrong, as I have tried my best to share my story. For any of us, who wish to engage in writing and speaking publicly about mental health, there is a huge responsibly on our shoulders to do so sensitively, offering light and hope to those who need it. Hence my anger and frustration at your article.

So, in finishing, I respectfully ask that you consider how you deal with anything referring to mental health, in the future. It would also be very welcome to see you focus a piece on the truth about Postnatal Depression and recovery – I know there are many who would appreciate it and would be happy to contribute.

Yours sincerely,

Lindsay Robinson

 * Parliamentary Question – To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what proportion of pregnancies result in a diagnosis of post-natal depression. View full answer here

* New thoughts on number of Mothers suffering PND – http://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/10October/Pages/call-for-postnatal-depression-support.aspx

* Parliamentary Question – To ask the Secretary of State for Health, whether a diagnosis of post-natal depression is routinely shared with social services. View full answer here.

* Parliamentary Question – To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many children aged up to three years old were taken into care in the last five years; and what assessment she has made of the reasons why those children were taken into care. View full answer here.

This letter was emailed to The Spectator editor@spectator.co.uk and letters@spectator.co.uk  on Friday 12th February 2016. 

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1 Response

  1. What an absolutely horrendous piece of lazy journalism by the spectator. Well done to you for addressing their ill informed editor who clearly went for the sensationalist view point he or she clearly thinks the spectator reader has. Shame on all involved who brought the ordinal article to print

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