Information for the public
Published February 2007

Mental health problems during pregnancy and after giving birth

This is an extract from a NICE publication. The complete publication is available at


Anorexia nervosa

An illness in which a person keeps their body weight very low by dieting, vomiting or exercising excessively. A fear of being fat or a wish to be thin leads to anxiety about body weight and shape.


A medicine that helps symptoms of depression.


A type of medicine that is sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.


Feelings of worry or fear that can be difficult to control.


A meeting with a healthcare professional, who will ask questions so that he or she can work out what treatment and care would suit a person best. An assessment may involve a physical examination and tests.

Binge eating disorder

An illness in which a person eats excessive amounts of food but does not try to control their weight.

Bipolar disorder

An illness in which a person has periods (or 'episodes') of mania and periods of depression. For this reason, it was once known as 'manic depression'.

Bulimia nervosa

An illness in which a person feels that they have lost control over their eating, and are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food and then vomiting or taking laxatives and diuretics in order to lose weight.


A short-term psychological treatment that allows people to explore their symptoms and problems with a trained individual. Counsellors will not usually give advice or treatment, but will offer support and guide people to help themselves.


A mental health problem in which a person feels 'down' and loses pleasure in things they used to enjoy. They may have other symptoms such as feeling tired all the time, sleep problems and thoughts of suicide or harming themselves.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

A procedure used only rarely to treat severe mental illness, such as severe depression and severe mania. ECT is always given in hospital and involves passing a small electric current through the brain. Doctors should fully explain the risks and benefits of this treatment.

Exercise programme

A structured programme of exercise usually lasting 45 minutes to 1 hour and taking place three times a week.

Mania (or manic episode)

Feelings of elation (extreme happiness or feeling 'high'), or irritability, or both. People with mania also feel over-confident, sleep less than usual, and can take unnecessary risks.

Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD)

A mental health problem in which a person has obsessions (thoughts, images or impulses that keep coming into their mind and are difficult to get rid of) and compulsions (feelings that they must repeat physical actions or mental processes).

Panic disorder

Feelings of panic or anxiety that come and go. People with panic disorder sometimes fear public spaces (this is known as agoraphobia).

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

A mental health problem in which a person has psychological and physical symptoms after a threatening or distressing event. One of the most common symptoms is repeated and intrusive memories of the event ('flashbacks').

Psychological treatment

A broad term used to describe meeting with a therapist to talk about feelings and moods. This might be a simple treatment such as getting advice on how to cope with symptoms and other problems; or it might be a longer treatment such as ones called cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy.


A doctor who specialises in treating mental health problems.

Psychosis and schizophrenia

Severe mental illnesses in which a person has hallucinations (seeing things that are not really there) and delusions (believing things that are not real).


A kind of psychological treatment in which a person works through, for example, books or computer programs. Sometimes this is with the support of a healthcare professional.