Looking at perinatal mental health

By Juliette Astrup on 04 October 2018 RCM Annual Conference Perinatal Mental Health

From the personal to the big picture, three speakers offered a multi-perspective insight to illuminate the issues around perinatal mental health at the RCM conference in Manchester.

Delegates heard from mental health nurse Jane Fisher, who shared her terrifying experience of severe perinatal mental health problems following the birth of her third child Bella, giving a moving speech in the form of a letter to her daughter.

‘Sadness followed me wherever I went,’ she said. ‘I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job looking after you all and I felt guilty about it all the time.’

After seriously contemplating suicide one night when her children slept, Jane sought help. She described the hope given by the professionals who helped her as like ‘a lighthouse in the dark’.

She said: ‘The most important thing they gave to me was hope. Never forget Bella, hope is medicine for poorly minds.’

Theresa Nixon, director of assurance, The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), Northern Ireland, and formerly director of mental health and learning disability and social work, shared details of the findings of the 2017 RQIA review of perinatal mental health in Northern Ireland.

It highlighted numerous issues including a lack of leadership driven at a senior level, the need for more training across the board, gaps in communication, as well as a complete absence of mother and baby units across Northern Ireland.

Since then changes are being made to address the gaps, including the creation of a joint commissioning expert group to address the recommendations, increased training and a revised pathway.

Quoting Martin Luther King she said: ‘If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’

Louise Nunn, a specialist perinatal mental health midwife and co-chair of North West London Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network told of some key aspects of her role, including developing specialist services – as well as offering greater support postnatally to all women.

‘We are looking at about 5% of women who meet the threshold for specialist care – but we know one in five women experience mental health concerns during the postnatal period – they also need support, and promoting mental health and wellbeing is a huge part of the work I do in additional to my standard role.

She adds: ‘If we can promote emotional wellbeing and mental health awareness we can reduce the stigma about disclosing problems and make it easier for women to do that so that they are more likely to seek help in a timely fashion.’

She also spoke about the need for maternity services to engage with mental health: ‘We know we look after 100% of women not just the 5%,’ she added.