Perinatal Mental Health

During pregnancy and in the year after giving birth women can be affected by a number of mental health problems.

These can range from mild to moderate conditions, such as anxiety and depression, to more severe conditions, such as bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and puerperal psychosis.

These severe conditions often develop suddenly and are potentially life threatening.

The different conditions require different kinds of care or treatment.

The majority of women have mild to moderate conditions which can be treated in the community.

For women who develop more severe conditions, specialist care is necessary.

Some women with more severe conditions can be cared for in the community by specialist teams but some women are so ill that they need inpatient care in hospital. 

Perinatal mental health problems in mothers affect infant brain development and increase the risk of a child having a number of poor health, educational and social outcomes throughout their life.

Mental health support for new or expectant mothers is provided in the community through general mental health services in line with the 2017 Integrated Perinatal Mental Health Care Pathway, which provides regional guidance for all health care professionals who come into contact with pregnant women, to ensure that any mental health problems are identified early and women are directed to the appropriate mental health services.

Currently only the Belfast Trust has specialist perinatal mental health practitioners providing care.

Where inpatient care is required, this is provided within existing general adult mental health facilities, as there is no specialist Mother and Baby Unit in Northern Ireland.

The voluntary and community sector also continue to provide a range of excellent support to women suffering from mental ill health in the perinatal period.

To further the development of specialist services a regional perinatal mental health group, led by the Public Health Agency in partnership with the Health and Social Care Board, has been set up to co-produce an updated service model, including comprehensive community-based services. Members of the group have already visited a number of Mother and Baby Units to learn from their experiences.

The costs of perinatal mental health problems in Northern Ireland is estimated to be around £250 million per year as outlined in a study published in 2014.  

Additional funding has been allocated to ensure that appropriate equipment and child-friendly facilities are available within general mental health wards to meet the needs of a mother and her baby and older children during visits.  

Funding was also made available in 2018/19 to deliver staff training, to update knowledge and skills in the area of perinatal mental health.

Nevertheless, with the prevalence and severity of perinatal mental ill health, the case for more investment and better provision of perinatal mental health services across Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly more evident.

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