24th March 2023
This month sees the end of the 4-year Interreg VA 2Seas PATH Project in which the iHV was a collaborating partner. Diane Massey, Head of Professional Services and PATH project lead for the iHV, and Hilda Beauchamp, Perinatal & Infant Mental Health Lead iHV, reflect on cross-border learning and the impact of the project on perinatal mental health outcomes.
What was the PATH Project?
The PATH Project (PerinAtal menTal Health) was launched in 2019 as part of the Interreg VA 2Seas programme with funding from the European Regional Development Fund. The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) was one of 13 partner organisations from across the UK, the Netherlands, France and Belgium working together to enable parents, families and healthcare professionals to prevent, recognise and successfully manage mild and moderate perinatal mental illness (PMI).
The project sought to promote positive parenting experiences and empower parents to feel confident in accessing self-help, professional support and guidance from employers leading to happier and healthier families.
What role did iHV have in the project?
iHV collaborated on the 3 main aims of PATH to:
- Reach Parents – through creating content and signposting for the PATH digital support hub.
- Reach Healthcare Professionals – through developing and delivering Fathers’ /Partners’ Mental Health Awareness training in partnership with DadMatters UK.
- Reach Employers – through undertaking a literature review and, together with PATH partner Southampton City Council, interviews and insights with parents and employers to develop ten Parental Workplace Wellbeing Recommendations for employers.
We contributed to the multi-media campaign addressing mental health stigma, and our film ‘Health Visitors: for every family‘ showcased the unique opportunity and skills that health visitors have to build relationships and offer additional support when concerns about parental mental health or the parent-infant relationship are identified.
What was the learning from working in this cross-border partnership?
It took time to understand the cultural differences, not just within the different partner countries but within the different organisations represented, and the various policies, guidelines and standards each partner adhered to. This diversity certainly added richness and value to the work as we learnt from each other. At times, it also required careful consideration of the different contexts for PMI work in each nation and ways to meet the different needs of individual members within the project’s quality assurance and governance.
The project continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and we were quick to adapt to offering the various new training programmes virtually. With remote cross-partner working rather than in-person meetings, we increased our opportunities to meet virtually in order to avoid the issue of becoming ‘lost in translation’ and misinterpretations – establishing small working groups to strengthen our communication.
What opportunities has the project created?
Since the project started, there has been an increased awareness of PMI across all partner countries with impact from the multi-media campaign to address stigma particularly noticeable in France.
The PATH project has been a springboard for new forms of co-operation and partnerships (for example, increasing PMI awareness among non-clinical professionals such as doulas and baby group leaders) and working with new digital technologies to pilot the use of Virtual Reality, develop new Apps, and create a comic-style ‘storyteller tool’.
Our collaboration with Southampton City Council around Parental Workplace Wellbeing Recommendations contributed to increased knowledge and understanding on maternity and parental rights. It enabled a focus on the responsibilities of the employer to support workers with PMI through guidance and legislation to ensure equal opportunities, reduce stigma, and ensure non-discriminatory practices. This UK-led aspect of the project enabled similar work to be undertaken in Belgium.
The project provided the opportunity to share and learn across partner organisations and gain an understanding of the variation and complexity of different health systems. We were able to share specific learning from the unique model of health visiting in the UK, together with other UK health and social care services for babies, children and families, to inform other PATH project developments such as the PATH-Huis in the Netherlands (by sharing the learning from UK Children Centres).
What happens now that the project has ended?
Whilst the main PATH project has now ended, the specific project outputs have been successfully transferred to other organisations and sectors to ensure longer term sustainability, with extended reach into other EU countries and further development. For example: the Neozorg app (support and information for parents who have a baby in the neonatal ward) has now been implemented in other EU countries; PATH training materials are used in Greece; and there are opportunities for research and development and influence on teaching curricula for student midwives.
Collaborative networks and alliances have been strengthened in all countries with particular progress in France where the project’s Steering Committee involves nearly 40 experts and representatives of national institutions in perinatal mental health – including the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, the French Marcé Society, the French Alliance for perinatal mental health, the French Federation of Perinatal health networks, and parents’ associations such as Maman Blues.
The final PATH project evaluation report can be accessed here.
As we are no longer members of the EU, the UK partners will not have any further involvement. The digital hub (path-perinatal.eu) will continue to be hosted but the UK content will not be added to. There are developing plans for a second phase of the project, known as PILLAR, with European partners scoping further work around perinatal mental health awareness with employers and wider communities.
What have been our highlights?
Diane Massey, Head of Professional Services, and Hilda Beauchamp, Perinatal & Infant Mental Health Lead, said:
“Through our collective efforts, we have made a positive difference to family mental health and wellbeing. Being part of such a large EU project has certainly been a learning experience. Working with many project partners created opportunities to work alongside individuals from a variety of professions. We have worked collaboratively and taken the time to fully understand the work presented and the outcomes that the project was working towards. Everyone’s contribution has been unique and valued.”
For further details about the PATH project click here.