While EastEnders has brought the mental health of new mums into focus with the explosive story line around Stacey Branning’s breakdown following the birth of baby Arthur, a Scottish charity is continuing to build on its pioneering work that is championing mental wellbeing among new mums and families.
Aberlour in Scotland is delivering vital support to women who find it difficult to cope with the emotional challenges of pregnancy and childbirth through a Perinatal Mental Health Befriending operating in Falkirk.
The pilot project has been such a success in its first year that it is to be extended to the wider Forth Valley region, through funding from Aberdeen Asset Management and others, to provide increased numbers of parents and families with early intervention that can help them overcome challenges and support them in the new phase in their lives.
Although post-natal depression is well documented, it’s only recently that perinatal mental health has hit the headlines for being a major concern for vulnerable women and their children, with research showing that if a mum-to-be experiences poor mental health during her pregnancy, and does not receive the appropriate, timely support, she is at greater risk.
Stacey Branning’s experience of postpartum psychosis following the birth of her second child has been one of the biggest storylines in EastEnders this year and the BBC soap has received praise for well researching the issue and raising awareness of the dramatic impact that having a baby has on some women, as well as the lack of availability of mother and baby beds.
Stacey’s condition is a severe mental illness that requires specialist care but during pregnancy and in the year after birth women can be affected by a range of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and postnatal psychotic disorders. Early identification and provision of appropriate and timely expert care are needed to prevent illness from occurring or escalating and to minimise harm to the woman, her baby and wider family.
Statistics for Scotland show that:
- Perinatal mental illnesses affect between 10 -15% of women in Scotland.
- 71% of health boards in Scotland do not have any midwives or health visitors with accredited perinatal mental health training.
- Only five Scottish health boards (36%) have a specialist community perinatal mental health service.
- Depression and anxiety affect 10-15 in 100 women during pregnancy and in the first postnatal year.
Aberlour’s assistant director Liz Nolan set up the early intervention project in Falkirk drawing on a tried and tested model operated in England by Family Action, working with women who need mild to moderate support. Central to its success has been the use of highly-trained volunteers and the positive relationships they develop with women and families, over time.
All volunteers undergo intensive training to prepare them for the role and so they understand the importance of listening and not probing, and working at the new mum’s pace. In the first year 21 volunteers were trained and have assisted 20 families in their communities, working with them for as long as their assistance is required.
Ms Nolan says that people may have heard of the baby blues and post-natal depression but there is a lack of realisation about the effects pregnancy and childbirth has on some women and how this in turn affects families.
“Society places strong demands for perfection around pregnancy and birth but things don’t always turn out as hoped,” said Ms Nolan.
“There are certain expectations on women having babies but it’s not all strawberries and cream and things can go wrong, if it doesn’t all go to plan it can have an impact on a woman and their families.
“Sometimes a woman can be worried about talking about it because they believe these are not the feelings she should have, but for some women this is a time that can cause anxiety or depression, the opposite of how they are expected to feel. Some feel isolation, are anxious about going outside the home, anxious about meeting up with other parents or about being a first time parents.
“Life isn’t perfect and it’s OK to ask for help and our volunteers understand and work with mothers and families to support them and overcome the challenges.”
Every case is different and each volunteer commits to giving up to three hours a week of their time over the course of a year, which means they can build up good lasting relationships and provide continuity of support.
With the pilot working so well, there have been requests for access to the service from the wider area and with additional funds now in place, the charity will be able to employ an additional volunteer co-ordinator, with means they can deliver training to more individuals who in turn can help families in the wider Forth Valley region from April.
Karin Hyland of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation, said:
“We’re pleased to help Aberlour extend its project supporting women who have been identified of being at risk of mental health illness during the final stages of pregnancy and up to the baby’s first birthdays. By working with mums and babies during this critical time they are helping families become more resilient and active members of their communities again.”
The Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally.
The Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects. The main focus of the Foundation is around emerging markets and local communities, reflecting the desire to give back to those areas which are a key strategic focus of the business and to build on the historic pattern of giving to communities in which Aberdeen employees live and work.
For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home