Need for improved mental health support for new and expecting parents, Shropshire watchdog says
A health watchdog has recommended that improvements need to be made surrounding help with mental health for expecting and new parents.
Healthwatch Shropshire spoke to nearly 350 people who either used services or worked in the local maternity system.
The organisation carried out the work earlier this year, at the request of Healthwatch England, to understand people’s experiences of the maternity mental health support available in the county.
The watchdog has recommended more support groups are set up, better information is provided and that mental health training is made available to all staff working with women and their partners.
The group distributed questionnaires, interviewed women and their partners, as well as staff.
A report into the findings said staff told the group that many, if not all, of the parents they had encountered in the past six months would have benefited from mental health support.
Just over half of those who filled in questionnaires said they had been given no information or advice about maternity and mental health.
Healthwatch Shropshire said there were widespread calls for a range of information for parents, including information for first time parents, regular reminders about how to access support and specific information or practical support.
The report said: "Women and partners described a range of experiences of talking to a variety of health professionals, including GPs. The lack of opportunity for parents to raise their mental health concerns came through as a theme in the feedback."
It said mothers and partners received ranging levels of support and most support came from health visitors and midwives.
The report continued: "People’s experience of waiting to receive mental health support ranged from receiving support on the same day to waiting more than three months.
"Service users and staff felt that long waiting times increased the risk of people getting into crisis. One person told us 'it is impossible to access services unless you are at breaking point'."
Healthwatch Shropshire says, as a result, it has made a number of recommendations.
They include more support being made available for dads and partners, such as focussed questionnaires and more 'male orientated supportive environments' so they are able to talk about their concerns and needs.
The group has also recommended that better information for women and their partners is provided, including around the pregnancy and birth, breast feeding, mental health and the support available and the referral criteria.
Other recommendations call for more consistent and face to face contact with professionals, extra support groups and mental health training for all staff working with women and their partners so that conversation about mental health become part of day-to-day discussions.
The watchdog says the training will enable staff to respond appropriately and make the necessary referrals.
The report says: "At the time of completing this research project we learnt that maternity mental health services in the county had been inadequate for a long time and work was already underway to create a new community based perinatal mental health team with the aim of launching this service in autumn 2019.
"Therefore, it is important to read the comments in this report in the context of a changing system while recognising the impact of the existing service and system in place on the mothers and their partners and the staff working to support them."
The group also recommends that the new perinatal mental health team should work closely with GPs and primary care services.