WRDA has been working on the urgent issue of perinatal and maternal mental health since 2017. The health inspection body the RQIA published a damning report into the state of perinatal mental health services just before the collapse of the NI Executive. AS a result of the political situation, the important recommendations they made have not yet been implemented. These include things like creating a specialist mental health mother and baby unit so that mums with acute conditions who need inpatient care do not have to be separated from their babies. The report also calls for specialist multi-disciplinary teams in all health trusts including midwives trained in perinatal mental health, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists etc. There are currently only a handful of specialist providers and all are situated in the Belfast trust.
WRDA’s aim is to bring the voices of women from disadvantaged communities into the heart of the campaign for better mental health services for mums. We know that women from low income households are much more likely to be diagnosed with post-natal depression than those from more affluent backgrounds. Many women have told us they feel it is harder for them to ask for help because healthcare professionals can be quicker to judge them and make child protection referrals. This fear is backed up by evidence from around the UK which shows that child protection referrals have spiked in low income areas since the roll out of austerity and welfare cuts.
WRDA has worked with mental health charities such as Inspire Wellbeing and Aware NI to deliver maternal mental health awareness raising sessions in women’s centres. We also designed a bespoke information leaflet which you can download here. We trained staff and volunteers in women’s centres to be maternal mental health champions in recognition of the vital role women’s organisations play in the community as a trusted source of support for women who are struggling to cope.
Our flagship project on this issue is MAS – Maternal Advocacy and Support. This 6 month pilot project was funded by Belfast City Council and involved setting up peer support groups in women’s centres for women to explore issues related to maternal mental health, gain tools and strategies for staying well, and give feedback directly to service providers about how they could do better in supporting women. You can read the evaluation of the MAS pilot project here. A total of 25 mums from 5 women’s centres completed the programme and received certificates at a showcase event in Belfast City Hall. The event, which was called BRAVE, was featured on NVTV’s news programme ‘The Round-Up’ which you can watch here. Some of the group have also gone on to meet with the Chief Medical Officer and deliver a presentation to midwives in the Royal Hospital.
This project has received support from The National Lottery Community Fund. A big thank you to National Lottery Players, Women’s Centres and the women who took part in the pilot! We will work with mums to develop a network of peer support groups for women experiencing perinatal mental health issues. The MAS network will also support women from disadvantaged communities to tell their story and participate in decisions that will improve perinatal mental health services. We will continue to lobby for better services for mums and we are proud to support the Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s Everyone’s Business Campaign.