The MAS project (Maternal Advocacy and Support) has received 3 years funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, following the success of the 6 month pilot project. We will work with 8 Women’s Centres, Windsor, Falls, Footprints, Ballybeen, Greenway, Atlas, Women’s Centre Derry and Strathfoyle to create 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.
During the pilot project we worked with women’s centres and explored issues related to maternal mental health, gaining tools and strategies for staying well, and gave 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. 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. We also designed a bespoke information leaflet which you can download here.
We have 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 poor state of perinatal mental health services just before the collapse of the NI Executive. The Mental Health action plan includes an objective to fund a new service model for specialist community perinatal mental health services. However, this is moving at a slow place and progress has been delayed. In the meantime, with covid 19 restrictions it is a time of increased isolation and challenge for new mums and women are without these vital services. At present the small number of professionals, specialising in perinatal mental health exist within only the Belfast Trust and none of the trusts meet the criteria for perinatal quality network standard. Northern Ireland also does not have a specialised mother and baby unit and mums who need hospital care must go to a general psychiatric unit.
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. Research indicates that women from low income households are much more likely to be diagnosed with post-natal depression than those from more affluent backgrounds. In the pilot project many women have told us they feel it is harder for them to ask for help because they fear that a mental health issue could lead to social services involvement.
Throughout the 3 year project we will work closely with AWARE NI who will provide specialist training and support to Mas Project staff and they will deliver the Mood Matters, Mother and Baby programme to participants in all 8 women’s centres. We will also continue to lobby for better services for mums and we are proud to support the Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s Everyone’s Business Campaign.