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Encouraging better understanding of perinatal mental health

The School of Health and Social Care at LSBU hosted a one day conference for healthcare professionals to explore current issues in perinatal mental health
16 September 2016

Perinatal mental health is recognised as a public health issue of national concern. The theme of the conference held at London South Bank University (LSBU) was ‘improving lives through knowledge’, and involved a series of stimulating presentations offered by expert clinicians, researchers and academics.

Presenters on the day covered a range of disorders including psychotic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, perinatal anxiety and depression – and crucially how to differentiate them from one another, especially when a range of symptoms occur at the same time.

The event was coordinated by Dr Sarah Church, Associate Professor and Reader in Midwifery and supported by Anna Lyons, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery, from the School of Health and Social Care at LSBU. Dr Church said:

“This conference was an opportunity to enhance the knowledge of healthcare professionals. All healthcare professionals working with women and families should be aware of the serious implications of undetected and untreated mental illness within the perinatal period.”

Plans are already underway to improve the support services offered for expectant and new mothers through the NHS but aside from a national strategy there are still the real day-to-day challenges in health and social care that need to be addressed.

Dr Church explains, “Women feel they’re unable to seek appropriate help and support and this is further complicated by the patchy availability of services. Some areas of the UK offer world class perinatal mental health services, whilst women in other areas may have limited or no services at all.”

During the conference it was suggested that fear among healthcare professionals is a big problem. That is, fear to confidently assess and advise mothers who may already be showing signs of mental illness and whether there was enough time to do so.

One speaker noted, “There is an issue where sometimes midwives and health visitors shy away from asking mental health questions, almost in case they get a positive response.”

The event proved to be a success and highlighted that midwives, nurses, health visitors and social workers want support and are ready to collaborate to tackle these issues. One attendee said, “This was an inspiring and emotive study day that highlighted gaps we urgently need to improve. It also enforced the important role that we as clinicians play in caring for women and their mental health.”

Dr Church concludes, “By organising this conference we hoped to make a small but significant contribution to the knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental health issues. This reflects our passion at LSBU to support and enhance the education of health and social care professionals, to enable them to feel confident in the care of women and their families and to contribute to the development of future services.”

LSBU has recently validated an innovative MSc programme in perinatal mental health that offers health and social care professionals, as well as individuals working in voluntary organisations and associated services, a unique opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills in relation to complex and challenging issues in the care of women with mental illness.