First Steps: Raising Awareness of Perinatal Mental Health Conference

Our first perinatal mental health conference delivers.  

Tears, change, collaborative working and continuity of care were just some of the key themes at this year’s first Kent and Medway perinatal mental health conference. The event was organised by KMPT in partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent County Council (KCC) and Health Education England (HEE) to help raise awareness of perinatal mental health, the services available locally, and highlight changes needed to improve services.

The conference was chaired by Dr Liz McDonald, Perinatal Faculty Chair, Royal College of Psychiatrists and was attended by nearly 150 people from different NHS providers, KCC, charities and representatives from Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

There were plenty of networking opportunities, with information stands from a number of local and national organisations available throughout the day for delegates to find out more about those working within perinatal mental health care in Kent and Medway.

Tracey Robinson, Trust Programme Manager who planned and organised the event, uses her own experience of developing postpartum psychosis 12 years ago after the birth to her son to help raise awareness amongst health and social care professionals.

Tracey said: “I’m immensely proud that the conference was such a great success. Delegate feedback shows that those who are planning and providing services achieved a much greater understanding of how perinatal mental illness impacts on individuals, and how we can all work together to improve their experience of becoming parents.”

You can see a summary of the conference in the headings below. 









Rehman Chishti MP - Government work on perinatal mental health

Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham, spoke about how he has been campaigning for improvements in perinatal mental health services. There are currently no Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) in Kent to support women with serious mental illnesses. As a result, they are admitted without their babies to general psychiatric wards or travel miles out of area to a specialist MBU to get the care they need. He has, with the help and support of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, introduced a Bill in parliament proposing legislation to put an end to the variation in services, which Dr Liz McDonald described as “the bleakest of all postcode lotteries”.

Becki Hemming, NHS England - National Perinatal Mental Health Transformation Programme

Becki Hemming, Programme Lead for the National Perinatal Transformation Programme, focused on how perinatal mental health has been identified as a key national priority for NHS England for the next five years. The emphasis will be on improving access and experience of care through early diagnosis and intervention, greater transparency and openness, increased funding for specialist community teams and increasing the number of mother and baby units available.

Beverley Lignum and Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz - Regional Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network

Beverley Lignum, Interim Programme Manager represented the South East Clinical Network, which provides support and advice across Kent, Surrey and Sussex to those who are involved in the care of a woman and her family during and after pregnancy. With clinical leadership from KMPT perinatal psychiatrist Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz, the network is supporting local delivery of the national transformation programme to ensure that local pathways of care are improved and all families can access the most appropriate services to meet their mental health needs during pregnancy and after birth. Beverley spoke about the work the network is doing to engage with local stakeholders and service user experts who are important to driving forward change.

Jess Mookherjee - KCC maternal mental health needs assessment

Jess Mookherjee, Consultant in Public Health from Kent County Council (KCC), went on to speak candidly about the causes of perinatal mental illness which can affect women from all different types of backgrounds, and risk factors such as, family history, traumatic birth, poor physical health and domestic violence and abuse, which can have a significant impact on maternal mental health.

She noted that there are significant gaps in perinatal mental health services in Kent and Medway. GPs are not always aware of when women with a history of mental illness become pregnant and when they do, they have the highest risk of experiencing perinatal mental illness, with no specialist mental health midwives in some hospitals, inconsistent funding and provision for voluntary sector support groups, lack of mother and baby units in Kent and a lack of support for baby bereavement which can trigger mental illness.

Jess presented the new KCC maternal mental health needs assessment which recommends an improvement in data collection and analysis for perinatal mental illness in Kent to allow better long term planning and commissioning, addressing workforce gaps in the MIMHS service and maternity units, whole system workforce education, specialist parent-infant psychological services and more peer support groups.

Rachel Cameron - my story

Rachel Cameron, a mum of two, shared her tear-jerking story of being diagnosed with postnatal depression after the birth of her second child. After receiving a diagnosis from her GP, daily visits from the Crisis Team and then specialist help from our MIMHS service, Rachel was admitted to a mother and baby unit to get the care that she needed. Following her admission, she was later diagnosed with Cotard delusion; a rare mental illness in which the affected person believes they are already dead and do not exist. After receiving intensive therapy, Rachel was able to regain positive aspects of her life and has been able to return back to work in her role as a Newborn Hearing Screener, and will soon be embarking on training to become a midwife. Rachel is passionate about using her experience to help other mums who are experiencing similar struggles.

Alison Corbett - Mother and Infant Mental Health Service

Alison Corbett, KMPT Mother and Infant Mental Health Service (MIMHS) Lead, spoke passionately about the work of the specialist community perinatal mental health service in Kent and Medway. The MIMHS service provides specialist assessment and treatment for women with antenatal and postnatal mental illness, monitoring and facilitating admissions and discharges for out of area MBUs and partnership working to provide training and supervision across a range of agencies.

Rhona Westrip - HEKSS perinatal mental health education survey

Rhona Westrip, programme manager at Health Education England (HEE) working across Kent, Surrey and Sussex spoke about their work in supporting workforce education to improve the delivery of perinatal mental health care to women. Nationally, they have been working with the Institute of Health Visiting, the Department of Health and the Royal College of GPs to produce five e-learning modules, which can be accessed on the e-learning for Healthcare website.

Documental Theatre

A powerful play performed by Documental Theatre; a Devon based company who produce interactive theatre productions inspired by lived experience. Following a series of interviews with couples that have recovered from postnatal depression, they have produced the hard-hitting play Friction. It portrays the lives of a young couple who are experiencing what it is like to live with postnatal depression, feeling unable to cope, unable to sleep and struggling to bond with the baby, and the effect the illness has on their relationship and family. It aim is to raise awareness, campaign for better recognition of the illness and to educate professionals to change practices. After the performance delegates were able to interact with the couple to ask questions about how their care and support could have been improved.

Dr Stephanie de Giorgio - the role of the GP

Dr Stephanie de Giorgio, a GP in Walmer, Deal is a mother who has experienced perinatal mental health problems with both of her children. She uses her lived experience to educate fellow GPs in the importance of asking how a mother is and not to be “fooled by a smiling mother”, know where to signpost for treatment, offer reassurance to the mother that her child will not be taken away and to check to see how dads and partners are coping as well. 

Mark Williams - The impact of mental health on dads

Father and husband Mark Williams, from Bridgend in Wales, shared his personal experience of suffering from depression, feeling suicidal and isolated following the traumatic birth of his son. He found it difficult to support his wife, who had also suffered from severe postnatal depression.

Describing how the debilitating condition would sometimes mean his wife was unable to leave her bed, Mark decided to give up work for six months to focus on caring for his family. But, with no money coming and debts mounting this put a considerable strain on the couple. Feeling desperate, unable to talk to friends he turned to drinking as a coping mechanism as at the time there was no help out there for men in his situation. After receiving a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness, Mark now uses his story to help raise the profile of perinatal mental health amongst men and urges them not to suffer in silence. He is the Founder of Fathers Reaching Out, a website aimed at reaching out to partners of women who are going through the same illness. He has campaigned for support for fathers to be introduced within the NICE guidelines and spreads the message that we must remember that a traumatic birth can also have a negative impact on the father observing it.

Time for You

Facilitators of the Time for You Group spoke about their groups which run in Canterbury and Thanet for mothers who are experiencing low to moderate depression and anxiety. The group is run by a multidisciplinary team from a number of partner organisations including, Think Action, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and Riverside Children Centre. The group offers a seven week psychoeducational programme, mood assessments, telephone assessments and referrals to other specialist services if required.