Main image: Lindsay Robinson with Health Minister Robin Swann

Maternal mental health campaigner Lindsay Robinson tells VIEWdigital readers that the wait for funding for mother and baby services is over. They need action now and for the money to be released. Her urgent demand follows the recent death of young mother Shaciara McDowell in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

By maternal mental health campaigner Lindsay Robinson

In Northern Ireland, 80 percent of women and families still have no access to specialist perinatal mental health services and there is no mother and baby unit here or on the whole island of Ireland. 

This hasn’t changed in years. England, Scotland and Wales have all seen significant investment and improvement while Northern Ireland has stood still. 

For almost 15 years, the campaign has been ongoing. I joined my voice with it five years ago. During pregnancy and for two years after giving birth, I struggled with maternal mental illness, undiagnosed and untreated – that darkness and despair was daily and debilitating. 

Last week was #WorldSuicidePreventionDay and we were reminded of the horrifying fact that suicide is still the number one cause of death in women in the first year postnatally. This past weekend, the McDowell family tragically lost their daughter, Shaciara. 

I could not begin to share their story, nor is it mine to tell. 

I do not have the words to speak to the devastation they must be going through and my words would fail to do it justice. 

But what I do know is that this should not have happened. 

We should not be in the position where any mum (or family) feels so hopeless, due to lack of support, for something that is treatable and from which you can recover. 

‘The Health Minister, Robin Swann, has assured me that addressing and improving Mental Health and Perinatal Mental Health remains his priority. But this needs to be translated into action’

There is overwhelming evidence that specialist services can, do and will save lives – they are vital. 

A business case has been produced for specialist teams in each of the five Health Trusts. 

The crucial piece of the puzzle for which we still wait, at this time, is the funding. 

The Health Minister, Robin Swann, has assured me (both publicly and privately) that addressing and improving mental health and perinatal mental health remains his priority.

But this needs to be translated into action; and action, right now, is funding – both immediate and recurring, for specialist teams to function. 

We remain hopeful that funding is coming and coming soon. 

Once approved, there are health care professionals trained and ready to take on roles in each of specialist teams but we can’t move forward without it. 

We also still need commitment to a mother and baby unit, and funding secured for that also. 

Allow me to be personal, I’ve been campaigning for five years. During that time, the campaign has had its up and downs. So have I. It has taken its toll on my own mental health to continue to share some of the most painful and hopeless moment and months of my life, on repeat. 

What keeps myself and others from the team determined and committed are the mums and families we know who are being let down and failed by our lack of services. 

Perinatal mental health is not simply a ‘mum’ or ‘woman’ issue, although if that was the case it would not make it any the less important. It is a wider issue; it impacts the whole family and, therefore, our whole society. The implications of not getting perinatal mental health treatment and services right are far-reaching and detrimental for all. It quite simply is everyone’s business. 

Alongside specialist perinatal mental health, we also need more education and awareness; early intervention; and access to community-based support and peer support. All of these are currently being addressed by our charity and voluntary sector, and they deserve huge credit for their work (often unseen) and also further funding and support. 

My thoughts are with all families who have lost loved and precious ones. We owe it to them, and all mums here, for funding to be released and services finally delivered. 

Come on Northern Ireland, it’s well past time. 

Over to you, Health Minister and Department of Health! 

Lindsay Robinson
Have you seen that girl?

• VIEW issue on maternal mental health –

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