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Perinatal Champions – Training reflections

18th September 2013

I recently accepted an invitation from my manager to attend a perinatal mental health training day facilitated by the recently formed Institute of Health Visiting. After I had agreed to attend, I then realised I was attending training in order to cascade the training to colleagues locally. I decided it would be worth going and I would worry about the time commitment later!

The training was delivered at a fast pace appropriate to the wealth of experience evident in the group of attendees. We explored up-to-date information around experience of and interventions for perinatal mental health. Perinatal depression is less stigmatised than it once was, but difficulties identifying sufferers and assisting them in accessing support remain.

The feeling that most health visitors have of being ‘safeguarding fire fighters’ was palpable but so was the enthusiasm for an opportunity to implement preventative work. Raising the profile of identification and management of perinatal mental health through the training offered by the iHV comes as a welcome and refreshing change for most practitioners.

The accompanying training manual (and memory stick) is a comprehensive tool for facilitating teaching and learning and will make delivery to local areas both thorough and robust. Much of the material will not be new to experienced practitioners, however revisiting the subject alongside the most recent research and recommendations for practice has been invaluable in bringing this important issue to the forefront of 21st Century health visiting.

For students and newly-qualified practitioners this training will come as an opportunity to embed good practice in assessing mental health issues and offering appropriate support from the outset. For one, whose health visitor training in the early 90s was completely devoid of mental health input, this indicates a welcome shift in direction that will inevitably elicit better outcomes for families.

The recognition of the impact of perinatal mental health on mothers, fathers and their children alike was a recurring theme throughout the training – reminding us of our duty of care to the whole family. The challenge from this is, once problems have been identified, working effectively with other agencies to offer support that is targeted to the needs of each individual and whole family units.

Antenatal contact was also highlighted as an area where health visitors can identify anxiety and risk factors and seek to build relationships that will make disclosure by parents of sensitive mental health information in the pre and postnatal period more likely and more timely.

With funding for this training from government and the training package delivered by the iHV, the baton has now been passed to local champions. This champion left the training enthusiastic and eager to progress to the next stage of dissemination. For the families we serve this must surely be a good thing.

Audrey Parrot, Health Visitor, Bolton Foundation Trust