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New team supporting new and expectant mums with mental health problems in Hertfordshire

Three mums who suffered mental ill-health during pregnancy have thanked the new Hertfordshire team who supported them through their difficulties.

The trio said they received ‘invaluable’ support from the community perinatal team, which was officially launched at Hertfordshire’s second Perinatal Mental Health conference on Monday 24 April. Around 150 Hertfordshire professionals who work with expectant parents and new families attended a conference updating them on national and local developments in infant mental health and perinatal mental health.

Mum-of-two Jenny Wickett, 41, from St Albans, couldn’t even contemplate having a second child after suffering from postnatal depression following her 7-year-old son Henry’s birth.

“I didn’t even want to think about it or talk about it,” she explained. “My biggest fear was that I would get ill again and what if I didn’t recover or worse, if I took my own life?”

Last year, she and husband Andrew had joint counselling to help them recover from the trauma and decided to go for it, with support from the community perinatal team. Baby Samuel is now five months. “Second time around was so much better. I hope by sharing my story other women will realise it’s OK to ask for help. Early help is crucial. The services are there to provide support. I certainly wouldn't be where I am today without them.”

Statistics reveal that between 10% and 20% of women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. Figures suggest that at least 400 women in Hertfordshire have severe mental health needs in the weeks before and after birth, with another 1,375 having mild to moderate needs.

Hertfordshire County Council, East & North Hertfordshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Herts Valleys CCG and mental health services provider, Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT) worked in partnership to bid for national NHS funds to develop a specialist service to support women with a range of mental ill health needs in the perinatal period and supporting new mums, as well as their babies and partners.

New mum Louise, 34, from Hemel Hempstead, found the team’s support invaluable, during and after pregnancy. “I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t happy to be pregnant,” she explained. “When we first found out, it had happened so quickly, I just felt stunned and numb. And then I hated it. I didn’t tell people because they would expect me to be excited and I wasn’t. Consequently, I lost contact with my friends because I didn’t want to tell them and became more and more reclusive, which didn’t help.”

HPFT has developed the community perinatal team which will be working alongside professionals such as GPs, obstetricians and gynaecologists, midwives, children’s centres and health visitors who already support women in the perinatal period.

Primary school teacher Anna, 40, from North Herts, who gave birth to her second child at Easter, was supported by the new team after suffering psychosis after her first child was born. “It’s been a relief, to be honest. Having the care plan in place meant that I could relax and enjoy the last stages of my pregnancy without undue stress about getting ill again as I felt prepared and well supported.”

The CCGs and Hertfordshire County Council are working together to deliver Hertfordshire’s £2m child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) Transformation plan to improve emotional wellbeing services for children and young people over five years. One priority is to improve perinatal mental health services. You can read Hertfordshire’s CAMHS Transformation plan, Healthy Young Minds in Herts 2015-20 here and you’ll find Hertfordshire’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy here.

For more information about the Community Perinatal Team visit www.hpft.nhs.uk/perinatal or call 0300 124 0939 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. There are other sources of support available for families who do not require the specialist support. Visit the Families First Directory for a list of available services www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/familiesfirst