New mums need far better mental health support
We are writing to warn of the dangers of current gaps in services in Northern Ireland for women with mental health problems during pregnancy or the postnatal period.
Research released last year revealed a staggering 80% of areas in Northern Ireland have no specialist perinatal mental health services and there is no specialist inpatient mother and baby unit in the whole of Ireland. These gaps have important implications for the well-being of women and their families.
Maternal mental illness is common, affecting more than 10% of new mothers. Today, a new Confidential Inquiry into Maternal Deaths report reminds us it can also be severe, with suicide a leading cause of maternal death.
In addition to the devastating consequences to the woman, untreated illness can have adverse effects on child development and long-term outcomes.
Many of these problems can be avoided if maternal mental health problems are identified early and treated effectively, but sadly too many women still do not receive the care they need.
There is also a heavy economic cost of perinatal mental illness to our society and public services.
Research released last year shows that the long-term costs to society of perinatal mental illness are more than £8bn for each annual cohort of births in the UK.
Nearly three-quarters of this cost results from the adverse impacts of perinatal mental illness on the child.
Welsh, English and Scottish governments are now responding actively to plug the gaps in perinatal mental health services.
In Northern Ireland, there is the need and the opportunity to go one step further by producing a strategy to ensure women across the whole nation have equitable access to safe, high-quality care.
The extensive scientific evidence, as well as guidance from Nice and Sign show that this will need to include a new inpatient mother and baby unit and specialist perinatal community teams.
We urge the Northern Ireland Executive to address the current lack of provision and to set aside dedicated investment.
The costs of perinatal mental illness — both human and economic — are too high to ignore.
DR ALAIN GREGOIRE, Chair, Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA)
EMILY SLATER, Campaign manager, MMHA Everyone’s Business campaign
SIOBHAN DOHERTY, Chief executive, AWARE
SUZANNE HUDSON, Chief executive, Bipolar UK
HELEN SHARP, Chair of Faculty of Perinatal Psychology, British Psychological Society (Division of Clinical Psychology)
DR GERALDINE SCOTT-HEYES, Consultant perinatal psychologist
SEANNA TALBOT, President, National Childbirth Trust
RIMI ATWAL. Manager director, Netmums.com
PROFESSOR PETER MCBRIDE, Group chief executive, NIAMH
SHONA HAMILTON, Chair of Regional Perinatal Mental Health Forum
BREEDAGH HUGHES, NI director, Royal College of Midwives
JANICE SMYTH, Director, RCN Northern Ireland
DR KARL MCKEEVER, Chair of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health NI committee
PROFESSOR DIANA DAY CODY, Vice-president, Royal College of Psychiatrists
DR JANINE LYNCH, Consultant perinatal psychiatrist
LYNDA BRYANS, Journalist/broadcaster
KIERAN MCCARTHY MLA (Alliance)
MAEVE MCLAUGHLIN MLA (Sinn Fein)
MIKE NESBITT MLA (Ulster Unionist Party)