Suffolk mum backs calls to improve mental health services for new and expectant mothers

Ipswich mum Shelley Brinkley with her three children

Ipswich mum Shelley Brinkley with her three children - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk mother-of-three who suffered postnatal depression has backed political calls to improve mental health services for new and expectant mothers.

Norman Lamb MP

Norman Lamb MP - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Shelley Brinkley, 33, set up the Ipswich Pandas Support Group for mums coping with anxiety and depression after her own experiences with mental ill health following the birth of her son, who is now five.

She said her postnatal depression had left her feeling “guilty and confused” and she was “shocked” to discover how little support was on offer.

Her comments follow calls made in Parliament by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb last week when he highlighted the apparent lack of specialist community perinatal mental health teams in East Anglia.

Suffolk clinical commissioning groups insist a “great number” of perinatal mental services are provided across the county though they come under more general headings.

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However, Mr Lamb said the absence of “specialist” services, as outlined in a recent map, was “truly shocking”.

“People are dying and some even take their own lives, yet these are deaths that could be prevented by the application of specialist services,” he added.

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Mr Lamb said mental ill health had a “profound effect” on the lives of mothers and babies, with its estimated cost to the country topping £8billion.

Although he acknowledged improvements were happening, Mr Lamb said the lack of specialist services needed resolving urgently.

Mrs Brinkley backed Mr Lamb’s comments and said the current perinatal mental health services in Suffolk “were not as they should be”. She has called for expectant mothers to be offered more guidance about the problems of postnatal depression.

“One of the big problems is that when mums are ill they often feel guilty or ashamed,” she added. “They don’t know where to go for support and they feel there’s something wrong with themselves.

“If there was more awareness they would know that it’s not their fault.”

A spokesman for the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs said it was important to commission effective perinatal mental health services, which were offered to women across the county through initiatives such as the Suffolk Wellbeing Services involving classes, workshops, telephone support, group therapies and counselling. For those women who experience more serious mental health issues, intervention is provided by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, in addition to the ongoing assessment by health visitors and midwives and the care offered by their GP.

“Delivering improvement and change to perinatal mental health services forms part of the recently agreed Children and Young People’s Mental Health Transformation Plan, involving the CCGs, Suffolk County Council and community organisations,” he added. “The continued focus of all our organisations is to work together, with local people, to further develop services.”

Rebecca Driver, director of engagement with NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG, added: “A woman’s mental health is assessed throughout their pregnancy and after the birth of their child by midwives and health visitors, who will raise any concerns with the patient’s GP.”

Paul Rogers, mental health commissioning manager at the North East Essex CCG, said women across north Essex with mild or moderate mental health issues have access to support through talking therapy services known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).

He said the CCG also operated a specialist perinatal support team integrated within the North East Essex Health In Mind IAPT service.

“Our perinatal team works collaboratively with all local maternity services, children’s centres, social care and other local agencies,” he added.

“Many of the women surveyed who have used the service have given favourable feedback on the quality and standard of the service they’ve received.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Women who experience very severe and complex perinatal mental illnesses need access to a range of high quality specialist support, including in-patient mother and baby units. There are currently 15 units in England, but we know that specialist provision and access to NICE-recommended care is uneven.

“In the March budget the Government announced that it would invest an additional £75 million over the next five years, £15 million per year, to improve access for women with mental ill health in the perinatal period.

“NHS England is leading a work programme to ensure that this extra money is used to best effect to improve outcomes for women with perinatal mental illness and their children. This includes work to understand the capacity and capability of current services to see how far need is met and ensure that resources are targeted accordingly.”

The Ipswich Pandas Support Group meets weekly at the children’s centre in Bramford Lane. For more details contact Mrs Brinkley on 07761 345897.

Follow this link to read more about our Mental Healthwatch campaign.

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