One in five women will experience some form of mental health difficulty during pregnancy or the first year following the birth of their baby; and in Andover this equates to approximately 16 women a month.
The Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust (SHFT) Andover Health Visiting Team are working hard to find new ways of supporting these women that help make a real difference.
In March 2016, the team in partnership with Andover Mind, developed a group called “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, for mothers with mild to moderate perinatal mental health problems. The group provides up to eight mothers and their babies with a two-hour group session, which runs for seven weeks with the aims of:
1. enabling mothers to talk about their feelings
2. developing new coping strategies
3. understanding why they might be feeling this way
Activities ranging from rhyme time to baby massage are incorporated into each session and fathers are also invited to attend a one off session so they can get information, advice and support for living with perinatal mental health difficulties.
Some of the mothers described their symptoms as:
· “I felt constantly tearful and isolated, even though I wasn’t on my own.”
· “I thought someone else could look after her better than me. I felt a lack of confidence in my skills as a parent.”
· “I felt that I had failed when she cried and I didn’t love her as much as I should.”
· “I felt as though I was in a bubble and only going through the motions of looking after baby. My life was all about baby, there was nothing for myself.”
The results from the group have been very positive with reduced levels of depression and anxiety, and increased confidence at the end of the seven sessions. All the mothers that attended the group said that they would recommend it to other women who might be feeling low or anxious. One mum said, “Until the group I felt like I was the only one and was very isolated which made me scared to ask for help as I didn’t really understand what was wrong. The group helped me do something about what was wrong and understand my feelings and reactions. For the first time I feel that I can tell someone how I feel safely, without anyone telling me I’m wrong, or I should be happy, or I’m a bad person.”
Alison Morton, Head of Nursing for Childrens and Families Services, SHFT, explained that, “We know that many mothers find it difficult to ask for help when they have postnatal depression or other mental health problems during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby. We are pleased that health visiting teams in Hampshire are working with other agencies like Andover Mind, the Specialist perinatal mental health team and Children Centres to tackle the stigma that still exists around mental illness and ensure that all women receive the right type of treatment. This project has shown the difference that group support can make for mothers and their babies and we hope that the findings will encourage more mothers to speak to their health visitors about how they are feeling.”
Andover Mind said they were grateful to the Andover Health Visiting Team to be able to continue to develop such a support group. Alison Gregory from Andover MIND from Andover Mind said, “The most obvious benefits have been the mums being able to share their experiences and realising they are not alone, and the positive effect from supporting one another both during sessions and socially. It has been apparent that isolation and low self-esteem have played a big part in the way these mums feel, so being able to make friends and offer each other support is hugely beneficial.”
The Andover Health Visiting Team are also keen to involve mothers in shaping and improving health visiting services for women with perinatal mental health problems so invited them to take part in discussions and interviews to learn from their experiences.
The mothers spoke about how they initially did not understand the symptoms that they were experiencing; they felt scared and ashamed and found it difficult to ask for help due to the stigma associated with mental illness. They wished that they had asked for help earlier and wanted to encourage other mothers to ask for help as soon as they started to feel that things were “not right” and said how important it was that information and treatment was easy to find. The mothers found that the support and friendship they gained from meeting other mothers experiencing similar difficulties had been an important part of their recovery.
Health visitor, Anwen Evans, who is co-running this pilot, explained, “One of the best outcomes from these sessions is the ongoing peer support. There has been such a huge benefit not only for the mother’s mental health but also their confidence and belief in themselves as a parent.”
The mothers were so keen to continue meeting, they have now established a weekly group called “Knowing Us” that will provide ongoing support to women before and after the “Knowing Me, Knowing You” programme. This group is also working with the health visiting service to design new literature for staff to use with other mothers/families experiencing perinatal mental health issues.