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The changing landscape of maternal mental health

NCMH Research Champion Barbara reflects over the last twenty years of maternal mental health on the anniversary of becoming unwell with postpartum psychosis.

May 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of a significant event in my life. In 2004, after the birth of my first child, I experienced severe postpartum psychosis, an illness that emerged suddenly, without warning, and dramatically impacted my life and family.

Eleven days after giving birth I was detained under a Mental Health Section to a mixed gender adult acute mental health ward, which was a terrifying experience as a new mum separated from her baby and child. Afterward, I continued my treatment and recovery in a Mother and Baby Unit.

After the birth of my second child in 2007, I experienced postpartum psychosis again, which required another stay in a mother and baby unit, as well as aggressive medication and treatment.

I became unwell again nine years ago and received a diagnosis of bipolar, a disorder which is often thought to emerge after experiencing postpartum psychosis.

Reflecting over the last twenty years

I now work within the NHS as a perinatal mental health peer support worker, a role which allows me to draw from my own experience of postpartum psychosis to provide 1:1 mental health support to women during pregnancy or after birth.

My role forms part of a wider team made up of professionals who provide a mixture of clinical and holistic care to women in need of extra support with their maternal mental health.

I also think that my experience of postpartum psychosis allows me to provide a patient perspective insight to doctors, which may not have been fully considered.

Changing attitudes toward maternal mental health

When I first experienced postpartum psychosis twenty years ago, my job role did not exist, which made it harder to connect with other mums who had experienced something similar due to the large stigma and lack of resources.

Support groups and online communities were also not as prevalent then. However, over time I found help through third sector charities like Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) – an organisation that works tirelessly to increase public and clinical awareness of postpartum psychosis through training and education.

Although general awareness and understanding of mental health conditions has grown significantly over the last twenty years, we still have a long way to go regarding the mental health of new mums, and in particular of postpartum psychosis.

Through the NCMH I have participated in research studies on maternal mental health, and encourage others to do so too, so that our voices can be better understood. My biggest aim is to use my experiences to help inform and support other mothers and families positively.

I am passionate about improving the pathways for women to access support with their maternal mental health, which I believe involves wider education and training for all NHS teams to provide effective support.

I believe it’s important to train all staff about the unique physical and mental health needs of expectant and postpartum mothers in these settings, as well as an additional understanding of the potential impact short- and long-term separation of mother and baby can have.

Too often, mothers are admitted to mixed acute psychiatric wards alongside other very unwell individuals in various mental health crises, which can be additionally traumatising.

Over the last twenty years, the biggest shifts I have seen in Wales have been the permanent role for one perinatal mental health peer support worker within the Aneurin Bevan health board, as well as the opening of Uned Gobaith, a new Mother and Baby Unit in Wales and a proposed new Unit in North Wales due to open later this year.

As I conclude this blog, I wonder what my reflections over the next twenty years will be in the understanding and care of maternal mental health. Overall, I am filled with hope for future expectant and new mothers.

Take part in our Mums and Mental Health research today


NCMH | Mums and Mental Health research

Action on Postpartum Psychosis | About

NCMH | Postpartum Psychosis webinars

NCMH | Bipolar disorder, pregnancy, and childbirth leaflet

NCMH | Barbara’s story


Barbara is an NCMH Research Champion and Perinatal Peer Mentor based in Cardiff

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