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An update on Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) in Northern Ireland

6th May 2020

During UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we are sharing blogs from the devolved UK countries. Here, Mary Duggan, Specialist Health Visitor, shares an update on Perinatal Mental Health in Northern Ireland.

Mary Duggan, Specialist Health Visitor, Northern Ireland

PMH is so complex that no one agency can look to solve the issue alone. This is why it has been heartening to see the multi-disciplinary ethos that Northern Ireland has taken in its strategy to achieve good family mental health and wellbeing.

Northern Ireland is extremely fortunate to have a dedicated unit – the Clinical Education Centre (CEC) that designs and delivers postgraduate education for Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health Professionals when this is commissioned by the Trusts. CEC has been providing one and two-day PMH training for many years. In the past eighteen months, the Public Health Agency has also funded additional training programmes to upskill frontline practitioners:

  • The Royal College of Psychiatry NI Branch have held five 2-day multi-agency training events
  • The NI Branch of British Psychological Society facilitated three training events with Michelle Cree “Bringing Compassionate Mind Framework to PMH “, these have been further supplemented by workshops by Consultant Psychologists Dr A Lok and Dr G Scott-Hayes.
  • The Institute of Health Visiting has delivered two cohorts of multi-agency Champions training

As a co-facilitator of the iHV Champions training, I have been so encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of the midwives, neonatal nurses and health visitors who have attended and successfully achieved iHV PMH Champion status. Their genuine desire and determination to improve the experience for mothers, fathers and infants in the perinatal period has been truly inspiring and I look forward to facilitating a third cohort of Champion training as soon as it is feasible to do so.

In November 2019, a Perinatal Community of Practice (CoP) was established to further enhance practice. There have been two meetings to date but the current situation with COVID-19 has meant that planned meetings of CoP and PMH Awareness Sessions for Community & Voluntary Sector in each of five Health and Social Care Trusts have been postponed. We very much look forward to picking this back up as soon as possible, as we anticipate there will be a greater need to support the psychological wellbeing of families as a result of the pandemic and the impact this has had for families.

Northern Ireland still does not have a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) and has only one Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team, despite many years of campaigning by the MMHA, a multi- disciplinary professional group , community & voluntary sector and in particular Ms Lindsay Robinson, mum with lived experience https://www.haveyouseenthatgirl.com/

We hope that the growing awareness of the importance of PMH, that this pandemic has highlighted, will help make PMH a government priority and that NI will have the much needed MBU and PMH services that families desperately need.

The announcement by the Health Minister on 27th April that his department has commenced the process to appoint a Mental Health Champion for NI is very welcome. Investment in Perinatal mental health services is critical for the wellbeing of mothers, fathers and infants – now, more than ever.

Mary Duggan, Specialist Health Visitor