As the country marks Mental Health Awareness week it seems a good time to highlight the work of our award winning Perinatal Mental Health Team. Working with other partners in the city, they provide support, advice and special care packages for women with a whole range of mental health problems.
Set up eight years ago and developed since then, our Perinatal Mental Health team has broken new ground and become a 'beacon' by establishing a mental health team within a maternity trust. We work closely with Merseycare Mental Health trust to ensure that women with mental health problems have support, before, during and after pregnancy.
Our maternity unit is one of few in the country to provide this specialist service. That is why over 90 delegates from as far away as Australia, Belgium and throughout the UK attended our recent conference to address post-natal depression and other mental health issues affecting pregnant women.
They were also there to learn how we developed our service which is now nationally recognised and was commended by the All Parliamentary Group on Maternity (APPGM) for work to ensure that pregnant women with mental health disorders have an individual, specialist service tailored to their needs - as do other women with high risk pregnancies.
Delegates and expert speakers in the field discussed ways of improving mental health care for women with a whole range of mental health issues including bi-polar, self-harming, schizophrenia and depression before and after pregnancy. I think it is fair to say that Post Natal depression is the one which captures the headlines.
'Why am I not happy?', the title of one of the discussions, is a question that most women would not expect to be asking when they are pregnant or after their baby is born. They have been conditioned to expect an idyllic experience. They may expect it to be the happiest time of their lives. But depression during and after pregnancy is more common than we might expect, affecting 10 to 15 mothers in every 100, leaving women and their families bewildered and in need of urgent help.
In extreme cases it can lead to tragedy, even loss of life, as was the case with Yorkshire Nurse Joanne Bingley. She committed suicide in 2010, ten weeks after the birth of her much wanted daughter, after becoming severely depressed. Joanne's story was told at the conference by representatives of the Foundation set up in her memory to provide support and advice for women and campaign for better perinatal mental health services.
Delegates came from a wide range of health professions and included midwives, obstetricians, mental health practitioners, psychiatrists, social care workers, GPs, nurses and health visitors. It is essential that all those who work with pregnant women learn to recognise the signs of depression after pregnancy which may not always be obvious.
Mental health problems made life so difficult, even unbearable for many people who deserve all our compassion and support. For a woman to suffer in that way at what should be a happy and important milestone is heartbreaking and as a Trust we are glad that our team is leading the way in supporting such women.
In the interests of improving care for all women, we hope that delegates went away with the intention of examining their own workplaces to see if there is a need for a perinatal mental health service that is not being met. If so, our conference and our team have hopefully given them the tools to set up a service to meet that need and protect these most vulnerable of women.