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Midwife shines a light on Barking trust’s antenatal mental health care

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 May 2017

Mental health midwife Mary Brennan with colleague Elizabeth Phillips at King George Hospital, Goodmayes. Picture: Ken Mears

Mental health midwife Mary Brennan with colleague Elizabeth Phillips at King George Hospital, Goodmayes. Picture: Ken Mears

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Welcoming a baby into the world is a profound, life-changing event, where much can be overwhelming.

Mary Brennan and her team at King George. Picture: Ken Mears Mary Brennan and her team at King George. Picture: Ken Mears

But everyday stresses and worries over the impending arrival can sometimes transform into something more.

Up to one in five women develop mental health issues during pregnancy – and in the first year after childbirth – and some new mothers have pre-existing conditions.

It is estimated that only 40% of women have access to specialist services, like the ones run by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT).

The trust, which operates Queen’s Hospital and King George Hospital, as well as some services from Barking Community Hospital, has over the last decade helped hundreds of pregnant women experiencing mental health problems.

Mary Brennan, 53, joined BHRUT 20 years ago as a midwife, but has been a specialist midwife for mental health for the last eight.

“It is something that has always interested me,” she said. “No two days are the same for sure, but I love what I do and it’s just such a shame that mental health gets such a bad rep.

BHRUT runs some services at Barking Community Hospital. Picture: Paul Bennett BHRUT runs some services at Barking Community Hospital. Picture: Paul Bennett

“So many of us suffer with issues today with our mental health, much of my work is trying to get over that stigma.”

More than 200 women, 193 of whom had mental health issues, used these BHRUT services over the last year. The small team works closely with partners such as GPs, the North East London Foundation Trust (Nelft) and community midwives to identify women at risk and help them through their pregnancy and the birth. Women can also self-refer themselves, through their GP, if they feel in need of support.

The conditions experienced, whether during or after pregnancy, can vary widely, from a low mood or anxiety to postnatal depression or postpartum psychosis.

The joint antenatal mental health clinic at King George Hospital, Goodmayes, was founded a decade ago.

“I did genuinely believe it was very forward-thinking, almost before the rest of the country in some respects,” said Mary.

Standardised questions, regarding issues such as mental health problems and domestic violence, are put to pregnant women cared for at the trust and all receive personal wellbeing plans.

Elizabeth Phillips, Mary Brennan, Emma Finlayson and Isata Barry photographed at King George Hospital. Picture: Ken Mears Elizabeth Phillips, Mary Brennan, Emma Finlayson and Isata Barry photographed at King George Hospital. Picture: Ken Mears

“We have given education, support and training to midwives for a number of years now,” Mary added. “Midwives have an increased awareness.

“Sometimes it’s just having someone there who will actually listen. It doesn’t make it go away, but it does take some of the weight off their chest.”

Family members attend the meetings about the wellbeing plans, which the women take copies of home, so they can “see there actually is something they can do” to support them.

As Mary discussed, reducing stigma is important with any mental health condition, but with women putting pressure on themselves to thrive during their pregnancies and in motherhood, to do it all, it can be even more difficult for them to admit they are struggling.

“We do put that expectation on ourselves, when we feel we’re not getting there,” said Mary. “It’s important to say, ‘I’m not alone in feeling this’.

“Things are not always simple and if someone has a severe illness before, when they get pregnant they are going to worry about being ill again.

“If you need to come and get some help, don’t be frightened to do it.”

Praising the work of her colleagues, she added: “The reason we do it is we do have success, we feel we have made a difference. I’m very proud to work as a nurse at BHRUT.

“Recently, I was out shopping and saw one of my mothers, and it was such a pleasure. It’s not the first time.

“For me, it’s a privilege to serve my community.”

If you are in need of support from the trust, contact your GP to self-refer. General mental health advice and support can be found at mind.org.uk, or by contacting Havering Mind: 01708 457040, reach.us@haveringmind.org.uk.

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