By maternal mental health campaigner Lindsay Robinson
NHS England has announced it is to set up 26 mental health hubs to support new, expectant and bereaved mothers. Ten of these dedicated women’s centres will be up and running in the next few months and the rest are due to open in April next year.
As a mum who has experienced perinatal mental illness, and still struggles with mental ill-health, services that support maternal mental health and wellbeing are always good news.
England, in general, has been well ahead of Northern Ireland in the provision of Perinatal Mental Health Services, and this is another step forward. Northern Ireland still, unfortunately, lags behind.
Those of us who have campaigned (some for many more years than me) for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services are delighted that funding for Specialist Community Teams was released by Department of Health in January – we are currently working on implementation to have them available in the five Health Trusts, as soon as possible.
However, while we are thrilled with the news of the Community Teams, we accept that they are only part of the pathway needed to ensure all women in Northern Ireland have access to maternal mental health care and support, at all stages of their maternity journey.
We are continuing to campaign and call for a Mother and Baby Unit, for any mother who requires in-patient treatment, as a completion of specialist perinatal mental health services in NI.
However many mums (who need support for various reasons) will not meet the criteria for the access to the new teams. This heightens the importance of a prevention, early intervention focus for mums and families, with side by side access to psychology within their maternity care, integrated into maternity units.
For example, psychological problems such as phobias, anxiety, trauma reactions and bereavement won’t necessarily meet the criteria for the new teams but all are part of daily appropriate referrals to psychology, in a maternity unit.
An idea from a Health Care colleague was floated with me this week, in reference to the news of the England hubs, for “Maternity Hubs” in Northern Ireland – where a mum can have her scan, blood pressure, weight etc checked and also have access to psychology and other appropriate services. Easier and more frequent access to midwives and health visitors will also help support mums and dads and families, reassuring in the challenge of ‘normal’ parenting and helping signpost for additional supports when needed. This seems well worth consideration.
Specialist Services (Community Teams and a MBU) are a vital part of the pathway but there is much more work to do as we all strive to ensure that Northern Ireland has excellent support and services for maternal wellbeing. Early intervention, education and awareness remain key. We also need proper funding for the Community and Voluntary sector (often grassroots organisations) who provide excellent peer support for mums and their families, experiencing mild to moderate mental health needs, but are often under resourced and can also be undervalued, for the significant and life-changing work they do.
It’s great to see England moving forward. I celebrate that news, and that women will benefit from it. There is no doubt much that we can learn, as we continue to work here in Northern Ireland to ensure all women have access to the right support, at the right time, in the right place.