Maternal Mental Health

Global Recommendations and Guidance

This page includes key documents from WHO on maternal mental health, a comprehensive mental health action plan, guidance on community mental health services, a knowledge summary on why maternal mental health matters and what countries can do, as well as a number of tools and guidance to support related programming.

Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan, 2013-2030, WHO

This action plan was adopted in 2013 at the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly. In 2019, the plan was extended until 2030. It provides guidance for national action plans and addresses prevention and promotion strategies for all resource settings to promote mental health and well-being for all, prevent mental health conditions for those at-risk, provide care, enhance recovery, promote human rights, and reduce mortality, morbidity and disability for persons with mental disorders.

Objectives include:

  1. More effective leadership and governance for mental health
  2. The provision of comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings
  3. Implementation of strategies for promotion and prevention
  4. Strengthened information systems, evidence, and research  

Guidance on community mental health services: Promoting person-centered and rights-based approaches, WHO, 2021

This 2021 comprehensive guidance document includes a detailed description of person-centered and human rights-based approaches in mental health, and examples of good practices worldwide. It provides stakeholders with information and support to develop or transform mental health systems and services to align with international human rights standards. The guidance covers a set of seven technical packages that describe mental health services and guidance for setting up new services:

Key Messages

  • People with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities face poor quality of care and violations of their human rights, which calls for a change in mental health systems and service delivery.
  • Worldwide, examples of good practice, community-based mental health services that are person-centered, recovery-oriented, and adhere to human rights standards exist. In many cases, these show lower costs of service provision than comparable mainstream services.
  • Changes in the social sector are required to support access to education, employment, housing, and social benefits for people with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities.

Maternal Mental Health: Why it matters and what countries with limited resources can do. PMNCH Knowledge Summary, 2014.

Recognition of maternal mental health has been underprioritized on the health agenda for many low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), despite being fundamental to the psychosocial well-being of women and children. Common perinatal mental disorders (CPMDs) affect the quality of life of both mother and child and have direct and potentially long-term impacts on general well-being and social and economic participation. Maternal mental health conditions, including CPMDs, alcohol use, and psychosis are key causes of pregnancy-related morbidity and mortality. This summary outlines the concept of comprehensive and integrated primary mental health care that considers the interaction of physiological, social, and psychological factors for mental health care provision at the primary and community level as a solution to address maternal mental health.

Key Findings

  • Delivery of services to manage mental health conditions at the primary level need to be incorporated into routine antenatal and postnatal care services to reach more women at minimal cost.
  • Improvements in maternal and child health outcomes can be achieved through a comprehensive and holistic model of care, including identification of mental health conditions during antenatal and postnatal visits, followed by psychosocial support and appropriate referrals, as needed.
  • Improvements in education, employment, and implementation of laws to prevent violence against women are essential to improving maternal mental health.

Additional technical tools and guidance to support countries in the development of mental health policies, plans, and laws to promote improved quality and access include: