The campaign focuses on recognising perinatal mental health symptoms and early identification. Working alongside healthcare professionals, we want to change the way women can access the support they need. From personal experience and research, there is a distinct lack of education in early identification of perinatal mental health conditions. Research highlighted a lack of support and resources for partners and families of those who are experiencing issues.
This campaign reaches beyond mothers and includes children, partners, family and friends. Our approach puts the needs all those affected first and to understand that everyones needs are different. We know that suffering from perinatal mental health issues can be extremely distressing for all involved. That is why we take an inclusive approach which fully recognises the needs of the mothers as well as their wider family.
During 2018 we carried out extensive research with expectant parents, new parents and families. The purpose of the research was to:
- Measure baseline experiences to allow comparison
- Explore ways services could develop to maintain and improve patient experience.
Analysis of the data showed clear trends and from those we have made several recommendations. Having access to information and creating consistency across geographical areas is a concern. Many of the others reflected communication as a particular area for improvement. We have considered each of the areas and reflected on how to make improvements within our proposal.
Feedback from our survey showed:
- Mums want accessible information at a time convenient for them. Waiting for routine appointments can delay treatment.
- They want clear, non-judgemental and open discussion with their healthcare provider. Forms that they feel rushed to complete means they do not answer fully.
- They also want more empathy and reassurance that its ok to be feeling a certain way rather than glowing in the joy of a new baby.
We feel we have achieved this in the Check Yourself Toolkit as we talk openly about our experiences. Had something like this been available to us at the time it would have given us a great sense of comfort. It would help knowing that others were going through similar experiences.
Key messages from research and focus groups:
It’s evident that there are some conversations happening around perinatal mental health, there is still a lot more that can be done. The biggest takeaway is the need for awareness and education is accessible. Of those surveyed 57.1% had no knowledge of psychosis and 60.8% no knowledge of antenatal depression. 31.1% of respondents did not have enough education of anxiety to determine what it was. These results show 30%-60% of respondents have little awareness of perinatal mental health conditions.
Geographical data indicated this isn’t a localised concern with common trends nationwide. This would suggest a need for NHS to look at this issue as a whole.
Partners & Support Networks
Partners are usually the number one support for expectant and new mums. It’s vital they have an awareness and understanding of perinatal mental health issues. This should include education on:
- the signs and symptoms to look out for,
- support networks,
- guidance on treatments,
- how to support their partner emotionally and
- how they can ensure they look after themselves and others around them.
Likewise, for those with other children in their family, it’s important mental health concerns within the home do not affect them. They still need to feel secure, comfortable and loved. It’s already an emotional journey for them becoming an older sibling and as such they need support.
Using research and the survey, we have put together a ‘Check Yourself Toolkit’. It’s for women to be able to check how they are feeling. The purpose is for them to see if what they are feeling is usual for them or something more serious. It uses a selection of questions adapted from PND scales. It details our experiences, including triggers we now look for to check ourselves. If someone relates to any of these questions it could be the first step for them getting the help that they need. The Toolkit does not override clinical judgement and we always emphasis the need to seek medical help. The benefit is the patient will identify they are at risk and know to seek help.
We are developing a Toolkit for partners on signs to look for in themselves and in their partners. The Check Yourself Toolkit can provide a true representation of how a person is feeling. We hope it can be a conversation starter or prompt when speaking with their medical professional.
Feedback suggested they found it difficult to say how they were truly feeling if they completed a depression scale. The questions were often leading and felt like a box ticking exercise. From the focus group, we know many mums felt they are able to answer more openly and honestly when in their own environment. There is a fear of how their answers are perceived or the consequences of what they said when speaking with a healthcare professional.
Dr. Emma Hepburn
Dr. Emma Hepburn helped developed the toolkit. Dr Hepburn is a clinical psychologist with 15 years experience working with mental health in both adults and children.
Emma explains why the feelings we were experiencing may be happening. Emma helps to reassure us these feelings are not unusual for those living with mental ill health. She advises that if you relate to any of these experiences it is imperative you speak to a professional. The Toolkits will share our own experiences communicated in layman’s terms.
We developed the Check Yourself Toolkit:
- to give reassurance
- raise awareness & educate
- ask questions that may trigger someone to realise they have a problem and ask for help.
There is a real need for this piece of work to happen to increase the options for pregnant women, new mums and partners. We want them to be able to check in with themselves, have a better understanding of their feelings and seek help.