Second Annual Perinatal Mental Health Conference Takes Place at UHL

-         Over 60 new referrals per month in new Limerick-based service

-         UK Expert: ‘This is a health condition; not a sign of weakness, inability to cope or being a bad parent’

-         Mum speaks of ‘breaking the stereotype around teen pregnancy’

UL Hospitals Group and HSE Mid West Community Healthcare have this Wednesday, December 5th, hosted the second annual Perinatal Mental Health Conference at the Clinical Education and Research Centre, UHL.

A host of national and international speakers attended the event and over 150 attendees also heard from service users and their families around issues of mental health during and after pregnancy.

The conference is now an annual event for UL Hospitals Group and HSE Mid West Community Health Care who have between them established, in line with the National Maternity Strategy and the new national model of care, the first Specialist Perinatal Mental Health service in Ireland outside of Dublin.

The WHO estimates that worldwide approximately 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression.

Among the speakers at this Wednesday’s conference was Dr Raja Gangopadhyay, a Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, UK, with a special interest in Perinatal Mental Health (PNMH).

Dr Gangopadhyay has been invited to House of Lords meeting as a member of the Expert Panel and organised and chaired events at the House of Commons. He is the Founder of International Forum for Wellbeing In Pregnancy (IFWIP): a unique initiative to raise awareness of mental wellbeing during pregnancy in a global perspective (www.ifwip.org)

Speaking on the importance of a continuum of service from early pregnancy through to the post-natal period, Dr Gangopadhyay said: “Antenatal depression is almost equally common as postnatal depression: a fact that often many of us do not know. In one third of cases of post-natal depression, this is the continuation of depression during pregnancy when this is not adequately treated during pregnancy. Many measures can be taken during pregnancy to reduce or prevent post-natal depression, psychosis or a relapse of serious mental health problems”.

Dr Gangopadhyay said no mother was immune from such problems regardless of her social, education or financial background. Underlying mental health problems could also develop for the first time during pregnancy or the post-natal period. It was important for women to remember that “this is a health condition and not a sign of weakness, inability to cope or being a bad parent” and that “full recovery is possible with care, support and treatment”.

Providing access to specialists in the antenatal period (GP referral, antenatal clinics in Ennis, UMHL etc) is a feature of the new Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service in the MidWest, a joint initiative of the UL Hospitals Group and HSE Mid West Community Healthcare. The development of this service provided the local context to the conference.

The service was set up in response to recommendations in the National Maternity Strategy 2016-2026 which includes providing better support for the mental health needs of women during the preconceptual, antenatal and extended postnatal periods; improving access to mental health services and support in our maternity services; training for healthcare professionals to identify women at risk of developing mental health issues; standardising access to perinatal psychiatry and psychology services and much more.

The new Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service is the coming together of separate disciplines - namely obstetrics, midwifery and psychiatry - to provide services to women experiencing mental health problems during and after pregnancy in the MidWest.

A key focus of the new service is to provide high quality care for women with moderate to severe mental health difficulties preconceptually, throughout pregnancy and up to the end of the first postnatal year. Beyond that, we hope to fulfil a preventive and early intervention role by improving the identification of women with milder forms of illness. Importantly, this new service will also play a key role in the training of all layers of healthcare professionals within the region and in the promotion of research within this very specialised area of medicine.

“In our first six months of service, we have consistently received over 60 referrals per month. In accordance with international guidelines, we have started screening all mothers attending the antenatal clinic for both anxiety and depression. We have had dozens of training and teaching sessions for staff in the hospital, GPs, Public Health Nurses and Psychiatrists. We have defined and agreed  referral pathways and referral forms. In addition to our antenatal clinics in UMHL, we have also set up a postnatal clinic in King’s Island Primary Care Centre in Limerick City,” said Dr Mas Mahady Mohamad, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist, UL Hospitals Group/HSE Mid West Community Healthcare.

A key part of this Wednesday’s conference involved healthcare professionals hearing directly from patients about their difficulties coping with pregnancy.

One such speaker was Caitlin McCreesh from Limerick, who has been supported by the Teen Parents Support Programme in Limerick City, which is funded by Tusla. Research shows that girls ranging from 15 to 19 experienced postpartum depression at a rate twice as high as women aged 25 and older. Further studies report that teen mothers face significant levels of stress that can then lead to increased mental health concerns. In addition to higher rates of postpartum depression, teenage mothers have higher rates of depression.

“Teen pregnancy and teen motherhood is very challenging and we face many difficulties that may be absent if we were older,” said Ms McCreesh. 

“I had to deal with the pressures of motherhood, sleepless nights, relationship breakdowns and accepting life as a single mother.  I mourned the life I wouldn’t have anymore.  I had to focus on finishing my education and ensuring that my child was being well looked after all while trying to financially support my son”

“As a teenager, self-identity is still developing as you try to figure out who you are while facing the judgement of our peers and others in our communities, these aspects of being a teen mom greatly affect our mental health.  The Teen Parents Support Programme Limerick provided me with continued support with every issue and concern, they believed in our capabilities and encouraged to make our futures bright. Teen pregnancy is a challenging and stressful time but it is also a time of immense joy and pure love, with the supportive help of TPSP Limerick they gave me the opportunity to excel in my life and break the teen pregnancy stereotype,” Ms McCreesh said.

Opening the conference, Prof Colette Cowan, CEO, UL Hospitals Group, said it was important that acute and community sectors continued to work together to develop the service in the MidWest.

“The number of women seen and treated by the new team has exceeded expectations. This tells us many things but, most importantly, it informs us that when services are available and easily accessible, more women are opening up and seeking help from professionals. It is essential that they do,” Prof Cowan said.

“With funding secured by the National Clinical Programme, this team will continue to expand in the coming months to evolve into a full multidisciplinary service. For all the women who currently attend the service, and all the others that will require it in the future, it is vital that this new initiative continues to succeed and thrive – therefore we need to continue supporting the team in any way we can,” she added.

And closing the conference, Bernard Gloster, Chief Officer, HSE Mid West Community Healthcare, said: “we are delighted to again partner with UL Hospitals in this important conference which now has the hallmarks and credibility of being an annual fully subscribed event in the wider health calendar.  The conference creates an opportunity for people with a critical interest in perinatal mental health to contribute, hear and explore the many different aspects.  Such discourse invariably leads to greater awareness and enhanced service delivery.”

Having visited University Maternity Hospital Limerick in recent days, Minister for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly, was happy to endorse the service and the conference.

"Having launched the new HSE Model of Care for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health in Ireland last November, I was delighted to visit University Maternity Hospital Limerick to meet the people now running this service in the MidWest. I was also delighted to about the second annual conference on Perinatal Mental Health. This event will touch upon the significant and positive work has taken place in the short space of a year alongside wider learning, all of which contributes to reaching women earlier and ensuring the best possible outcomes for all," said Minister Daly.

Last updated on: 05 / 12 / 2018