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Mental health care for Lancashire mums moves "closer to home"

breastfeeding mum with baby pulling on shirt

Published by Alice Sofield at 8:43am 5th February 2019 (Updated 8:49am 5th February 2019)

The team behind a recently-opened mental health unit for new and expectant mums is expanding its services into the community.

By Local Democracy Reporter Paul Faulkner 

The Ribblemere centre opened at Chorley Hospital in November, creating eight new inpatient beds to provide treatment for those suffering from the most severe perinatal mental health problems.

The facility serves the whole of Lancashire and South Cumbria and has so far helped 10 patients, but now staff have begun working with mums closer to home.

It's part of a plan to spot the early signs and risks of maternity-related mental illness and ward it off before it worsens.

Gill Strachan, a consultant psychiatrist at the unit, says that the nature of some conditions means mums may be unaware that they are becoming unwell:

"First of all we’ve got to detect [a problem], so we’re relying on the wider health community to ask the right questions and make a referral to mental health services [if necessary].

"A lot of what we call post-natal depression might actually have started in pregnancy. Women might have become more anxious or depressed, but they might not have been keen to talk about it because there is a perception that you should be happy when you’re pregnant."

Gillian Strachan, consultant psychiatrist, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust

Gillian Strachan, consultant psychiatrist, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust

But the biggest risks to a new mum’s mental health come in the first six weeks after her baby has been born.

Some of the symptoms might be most obvious to her close family, while others could remain dangerously hidden:

"Warning signs include feeling that they’re not competent as a mum or that other people would be better looking after their baby.

"They may believe that their baby doesn’t like them or might feel like running away – or even have thoughts of ending their life."

Help for the estimated one in five new mums to suffer from mental health problems will now also be delivered in the community - both to treat those with less severe complaints and also attempt to prevent some the most serious mental health conditions which a new mum could face.

Women with pre-existing mental health conditions like bipolar disorder are known to be at particular risk of a condition called postpartum psychosis. That can result in hallucinations or a belief that their baby does not belong to them.

However, a birth plan, delivered by specialist staff during pregnancy, can help ensure that a new mum’s condition does not deteriorate to the point of requiring admission to Ribblemere.

BABY BLUES

Becoming a mum, particularly for the first time, can take its toll - but that does not necessarily mean that a mental health problem's developing, as consultant physchiatrst Gill Strachan explains: 

"It’s a time of adjustment and we know that up to 70% of women experience what we call baby blues.

"They may be feeling tearful, not settling and finding it a struggle – but we know that it only lasts for up to 72 hours and only for first 14 days after birth.

"If it’s lasting longer than that, there may be other things going on – if a women’s appetite is affected or she is feeling guilty or getting any thoughts that people would be better off without her, then these women should be getting help from their their GP and then from perinatal mental health services."

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