Mental Health Champion backs calls for better maternal mental health services in NI

A group of Northern Ireland mums are calling for improved maternity and perinatal services.

They are "demanding a greater voice in maternity and perinatal services as shortfalls in provision are putting the mental health of mothers at risk".

Mothers and health advocates spoke openly about their experiences with the health service and called for urgent improvements in care, including required training for all healthcare professionals on postpartum psychosis.

The mums described their lived experiences to healthcare professionals and MLAs at a special event at Stormont on Monday, November 28.

For Northern Ireland's Mental Health Champion, the only thing standing in the way of successful delivery of improved services could be money.

It comes as all parties have already signed off on the plans.

"It's not controversial so the minute we get [Stormont] up and running it should be possible.

"We have specialist perinatal mental health services in place in two of the trusts already and another two are recruiting now, so that's really positive, and that is an action in the 10 year mental health strategy and we're on year one at the minute, but we need much, much more money next year.

"We need over £20million next year for that part of the strategy - so my concern would be that that money does need to be released by an executive because we don't have a health minister in place at the minute."

It was organised by the Maternal Advocacy and Support (Mas) Project and brought together mothers and mental health champions.

Clare Anderson, Mas Project Coordinator, said: “Women have highlighted key areas that would make a difference to their experience such as compassion, non-judgement, better communication, signposting to services and earlier identification of a perinatal mental health problem. We understand how stretched the health service is and how hard they are working but we want health leaders to see the care from the perspective of the women they treat.”

The Mas project, led by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA), provides peer support and the opportunity for women to share their lived experience with the aim of improving services in the future.

As part of this project, the women developed a flyer as a resource for the healthcare sector highlighting what changes could be made that would improve care.

Speakers at the event included Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O'Neill and Ellie Ware from Action on Postpartum Psychosis as well as a number of very personal stories by mothers.

Professor Siobhan O'Neill: “I want to thank the women who have spoken out about their experiences, their stories provide an impetus to improving maternal and perinatal services for the future. We know the issues, and we know that providing compassionate responses when mothers are struggling and early intervention services make a real difference to the lives of women and their babies.

"There is also strong evidence that early intervention and support for mothers is excellent value for money. The changes needed are set out in the Mental Health Strategy, and it is vital that this Strategy continues to be implemented at pace, so that all mothers receive the support that they need.”

Profess Siobhan O'Neill in front of Stormont holding the newly launched Mas Project Leaflet

Jannine Barnes, a Mas participant at Ballybeen Women's Centre, said: “Many of us have had experiences that could have been much better and we want to improve that for women in the future. Some women have felt that they haven't been listened to and have felt judged, which has further impacted on their mental health. The Mas project has been a lifeline for us and provided non-judgemental peer support. I feel like I don't know where I would have been without it."

Ellie Ware, Peer support Coordinator from Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “Postpartum psychosis will affect approximately 35 women a year in Northern Ireland. It is essential that all healthcare professionals receive training, so women are quickly diagnosed and receive the right treatment. Postpartum Psychosis is always a medical emergency and yet, while every other region of the UK now has specialist Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) to treat women experiencing this severe mental illness, Northern Ireland currently has no such facilities.”

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