Urgent funding needed to tackle mental health issues among pregnant women and new mums

Vital funding for perinatal mental health services needs to be urgently released to help new mothers struggling with mental ill health - the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland (RCPsych NI) said yesterday.

Lindsay Robinson
Lindsay Robinson

The call comes as campaigners meet with Professor Siobhan O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s new interim mental health champion today, to discuss mental health services and the issues facing new mothers and their families.

In May, health minister Robin Swann announced funding for specialist community perinatal teams as part of a package of measures in the Mental Health Action Plan.

But the (RCPsych NI) said that despite some real progress, these teams cannot become reality until confirmation of funding goes to each Health and Social Care Trust.

It pointed out that around one in five women experience mental health difficulties during pregnancy or in the post-natal period. Conditions include depression, anxiety, psychosis, bipolar affective disorder and PTSD.

And maternal suicide is still a leading cause of death for new mums in the first year after giving birth.

Northern Ireland still lags way behind the rest of the UK when it comes to perinatal services. There is still no mother and baby unit, meaning new mothers who require a psychiatric admission are separated from their babies.

Dr Julie Anderson, chair of the perinatal faulty, RCPsych NI, said: “Evidence is overwhelmingly clear that specialist perinatal mental health services improve short and long term outcomes for mums and babies, save lives and actually save money for the public purse.

“Perinatal mental health is everyone’s business and we are pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Prof O’Neill to update her on the work that has gone on over many years to get these specialist services in place for all mothers who need them across Northern Ireland.

“We are at the last hurdle; the work has been done – all we need now is for adequate and recurrent funding to be released.”

Lindsay Robinson, perinatal mental health campaigner, added: “As a mum with lived experience of maternal mental illness and a perinatal mental health campaigner, I know personally how vital these services are - they can, do and will save lives. It remains shocking that 80 per cent of mums in Northern Ireland do not have access to them.

“However, the health minister has assured me - both publicly and privately - that addressing and improving mental health and perinatal mental health remains his priority.

“So, we remain hopeful that the crucial funding is coming and coming soon.”

Professor Siobhan O’Neill, added: “The foundations for good mental health are developed in infancy, and positive relationships during this critical period of brain development support the child’s capacity to cope with challenges later in life...As a parent, I know the value of good mental health and support, and I will champion this area to ensure that funding promised reaches those most in need.’