No shame in struggling with mental health as a new mum – here’s how you can seek help

Dr Jennifer Cooke, consultant psychiatrist with the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service (SPMHS). Picture by David Rees Photography
Dr Jennifer Cooke, consultant psychiatrist with the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service (SPMHS). Picture by David Rees Photography

Specialist mental health services are reminding new mums and families of the importance of seeking help for mental health and emotional difficulties as early as possible.

Wednesday (May 1) marked World Maternal Mental Health Day, and it is believed that one in five women will experience a mood or anxiety disorder during their pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth.

These mental health difficulties can include postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and psychosis.

The Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service (SPMHS), which is run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, is a community-based service for mums who are experiencing severe mental health difficulties during pregnancy or for up to a year after birth.

The team also supports expectant mothers who are currently well but have experienced mental health difficulties in the past, as well as fathers and partners.

The service has four teams of mental health professionals which include psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, parent-infant psychotherapists and nursery nurses, and is able to offer face to face clinics at a range of different locations, including in the family home.

Dr Jennifer Cooke, consultant psychiatrist with the service, said it was important to stress that struggling with mental health was not something to be embarrassed about.

She said: “Welcoming a new baby is a very special time but for some mothers, particularly where there is a history of mental illness, it can be overwhelming.

“This is nothing to be ashamed of – it is our job to show these women that they are not alone, help make this difficult time more manageable by giving them the specialist focused support that they need and work with them towards their recovery.”

Dr Cooke explained how the service was launched, and that it has expanded since its inception.

“To ensure we continue to offer the best possible support for the women and families that we work with it is vital that we are always looking for ways to progress and grow,” she said.

“Since launching our service 18 months ago we have welcomed other professions into the team, including early years workers, and by offering other types of specialist support such as perinatal specific dialectical behavioural therapy groups.

“We are also currently developing perinatal mental health simulation training for midwives, maternity support workers, health visitors, obstetricians, GPs and mental health nurses across Sussex and East Surrey.

“I would encourage anyone who is concerned about their mental health or emotional wellbeing to go and talk to their GP, midwife or health visitor.”

To find out more about the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service and to view a short film which includes first-hand experiences from mums who have used the service, visit the trust’s website at www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk/perinatal

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust provides mental health, learning disability and prison health care across south east England.