Belfast Telegraph

Perinatal support boost for new mothers at risk of mental illness

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said more needs to be done to support for mothers during pregnancy or following birth. (Dominic Lipinski/ PA)
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said more needs to be done to support for mothers during pregnancy or following birth. (Dominic Lipinski/ PA)
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Mother and baby services in Northern Ireland are to receive a boost thanks to a commitment to train more professionals in perinatal mental health care.

But while the move has been welcomed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists they say more still needs to be done to support for mothers during pregnancy or following birth.

The project is funded by £17,000 and around 160 medical workers will be given training on how to deliver essential support.

Northern Ireland currently has a lack of specialist perinatal mental health services and no mother and baby unit for new mothers who are struggling, with RCPsych NI planning to roll out training in the autumn.

Recent reports reveal 80 per cent of women and families having no access to support, despite around one in five new mothers having a condition such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic distress disorder and psychotic disorders.

Now midwives, health visitors, social workers and psychologists will be among the professional staff to receive specialist training delivered by the Royal College of Psychiatrists NI working on behalf of the Public Health Agency.

“Pregnancy and the early postnatal period for many mothers is a fabulous time of life but it is a period in life when women are most at risk of developing a new mental illness or experience a relapse of a pre-existing one,” said Dr Julie Anderson, consultant psychiatrist at RCPsych NI.

“There is clear evidence that specialist perinatal services reduce risk, improve outcomes and indeed save money to the public purse.

“It is inexcusable that in Northern Ireland we lag so far behind the rest of the UK in the development of much needed specialist services.

“If women require admission to hospital because of mental illness they have to be separated from their baby as we still do not have a mother and baby unit.

“We warmly welcome this vital funding. It will help train health professionals on how to deal with the many mental health challenges a new mum may face.

“However, we still have a long way to go if we’re to get on track.

“We need ring-fenced funding for specialist community perinatal mental health services in each health trust and for a regional mother and baby unit.”

Deirdre Webb, Acting Assistant Director of Nursing at the Public Health Agency (PHA) also welcomed the additional training.

“The training has been highly valued by previous attendees and has strengthened health practitioners’ knowledge and skills for those working with mothers with perinatal mental health issues as well as supporting their families,” she said.

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