A perinatal mental health service, involving midwife referral, has been credited with helping thousands of pregnant women confront issues before they become more serious.
Since it began five years ago the Devon and Torbay Perinatal Health Team has identified, supported or signposted thousands of women who needed mental health support, said NHS England.
All women who give birth in Torbay Hospital, Royal Devon and Exeter and North Devon District Hospital are asked by midwives about their mental health and those who report concerns, or are at risk, are referred to the team.
If a midwife observes an issue they refer the woman to the perinatal team who take a number of actions – direct them to services or information, see them for a check-up to discuss medium level concerns or in more serious cases refer them for specialist care.
Dr Jo Black, a consultant perinatal psychiatrist who leads the scheme, which is run by Devon Partnership NHS Trust, said: “We’re picking up that one third of women are concerned about their mental health.
“The women don’t have to go to a mental health unit to see us, they can see us at their antenatal clinic or at home after the birth and we provide them with information, treatment, reassurance and normalisation,” she said.
The teams help women from the pregnancy planning stage through to post-natal support.
All the midwives in Devon and Torbay have an induction and mandatory training carried out by the perinatal team to make sure they are comfortable asking questions that initiate a conversation about mental health.
“For example, a woman who has a history of sexual abuse as a child may have concerns about her delivery,” said Dr Black. “She may be avoiding going to antenatal check-ups.”
“By enabling that woman to discuss her anxieties, we can normalise her concerns and work with the midwives to make sure she has a safe and respectful delivery,” she said.