Up to 20 per cent of women develop perinatal mental health issues during pregnancy or in the first year after birth.
But many pregnant women and new mums do not seek help as they believe there is a stigma attached, especially at a time when they are expected to be thrilled with the prospect of a new baby.
The West Midlands Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network team at NHS England (Midlands) has launched a series of videos telling personal stories of women who have developed perinatal mental illness and how they have worked with healthcare professionals to get better. The films cover maternal OCD; antenatal anxiety; postpartum psychosis; postnatal depression and maternal bonding difficulties. And are for GPs, midwives, health visitors and other healthcare professionals to share with women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth to show that it is ok to address these feelings.
Katy Chachou features in one of the videos. She is a peer support worker and campaigner for postpartum psychosis and maternal mental health and explains why she wanted to share her story: “I want women to know that mental health during and after childbirth is really important and that there is support out there for them. These services really will make a difference to a mum’s experience of the pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.”
Another mum who tells her story on film is Leanne Howlett, who following the birth of her first child suffered postnatal depression explains: “My experience was how hopeless life can feel. I thought it would be the happiest year of my life when my baby was born but it really wasn’t. I would get up and go out to lots of baby classes and put on a smile and pretend everything was okay but inside I was literally falling apart.
“With the extra support in place things did start to look up, it was a slow journey. If I hadn’t had support from the Perinatal Mental Health team that I needed I would never have seen the light.”
Nicola McDermott, Perinatal Mental Health Champion and GP from Worcestershire is encouraging healthcare professionals to watch the films: “I deliver teaching sessions with the aim of improving GPs knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental illness.
“During training I focus on how we communicate and how we can break down the barriers around perinatal mental illness. Colleagues tell me how interesting they find this topic and how they plan to change their practise.
“Taking on the role of Perinatal Mental Health Champion has deepened my knowledge of the many perinatal mental health issues that we may see as GPs. It has also given me the confidence to manage patients and start treatments in primary care.”
Dr Lucy Blunt, GP Champion for Perinatal Mental Health in Coventry and Warwickshire added: “Mental illness is the most common complication encountered by women during the perinatal period, yet it is often over looked or not given the attention that it deserves due to the associated stigma and barriers in communication.
“Women need to feel confident that not only is their GP approachable but also competent in recognising, assessing and appropriately managing all different types of perinatal mental illness.
“Improved training and education will enable GPs to offer help and support at the earliest opportunity resulting in the best possible outcomes for these women and their families at this vital period of change in their lives.”
The pilot programme is part of a wider investment by NHS England in the Midlands region to support perinatal mental health services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. This includes funding a six-month pilot to fund seven GPs across six STP areas (Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships) to support, educate and improve awareness amongst health professionals about the treatment and support available to women who are at risk or suffering maternal mental health issues by NHS England’s Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network and Health Education England (Midlands).
Mums who are experiencing these feelings should speak to their local GP or health visitor for more advice and information or visit: www.nhs.uk to find local services.