A day in the life of…a Peer Support Facilitator

Natalie Thompson has worked with APP since 2019 and is based in our Birmingham and Solihull peer support team. Having experienced PP twice herself in 2003 and 2007, and later being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010, Natalie helps support women and families affected by PP (or other illnesses featuring manic or psychotic symptoms). After treatment in an acute psychiatric ward and fantastic care at the Birmingham Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), Natalie knows how challenging it can be to settle back into everyday life.

Here, she shares a typical day in the life of her role with APP.

09:00

I always start the day with a cup of tea (never coffee!) to wake me up. Steaming hot brew at the ready, I’ll open up my laptop, check my emails to see if there’s anything urgent I need to respond to, and then I’ll make a plan for the day. I also have a paper diary to cross reference with to make sure I don’t miss anything – I haven’t quite managed to go entirely paperless yet!

09:30

Armed with another cup of tea, I’ll call the women on my caseload to check in and see how things are. In normal times, this might be a face to face chat but during the pandemic we have tried to stay in touch by phone or zoom meetings. I know from personal experience that chatting to someone who has been through what you have is such a big help and makes you feel less alone in your recovery (which also helps to speed up recovery). From these calls I’ll write up my notes to make sure I am able to reflect on any areas I need to follow up on.

11:00

To end the morning, I might refresh my skills by taking part in training and shared learning. Sometimes this will be provided by the brilliant team at APP, but, as a partner of the local NHS Trust, we are also able to access NHS training and development too. It’s always good to keep learning and hearing best practice and I feel lucky that this is something APP is so supportive of.

12:30

Time for a lunch break. One of the perks of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband always makes our lunch which gives me more time to simply switch off for a break. He usually prepares nice healthy meals – but always tends to over do it with the mayo! (Not that I’m complaining!)

13:30

After lunch, I might attend an MDT meeting (multi disciplinary team meeting – one of the by-products of working in health is the number of acronyms you become accustomed to!). This might be attended by clinicians, nursery nurses etc.... and some of the issues we might address could include women on the high risk pathway and admissions to the MBU. Next up – it’s finally time for my one and only cup of coffee of the day! If I have any more than one I'd be bouncing off the walls!

14:30

Next I’ll make sure I get moving and get some fresh air by doing a socially distanced walk with one of the women on my caseload who is recovering from PP. These ‘walk and talk’ peer support meetings have been great during lockdown – especially for women who feel anxious leaving the house alone and those who don’t have a great social network. Getting out is difficult for new mums as it is, but even more so when you’re recovering from severe mental illness – and we know that exercise and fresh air both contribute to wellness so it’s a win-win.

15:30

Next, I might prepare for the APP café group – a session where several women get together to share their experiences or just to socialise with others who have been through similar experiences. When restrictions allow, these are all done in a physical space, so I’ll check out the venue, make sure they have good facilities and space, etc. Then, I’ll email participants a little reminder or, where outdoor café groups take place, check on the dreaded weather!

16:30

Time to clock off. That’s the great thing about working for a charity that’s committed to mums and babies spending time together – they like to ensure your work doesn’t eat too much into your family time! So even when I work from home I’m pretty strict about clocking off at the end of my shift and joining my family for a relaxing evening.

To find out more about current APP peer support job vacancies, click here.

 

 

 

 

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Book review: The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliot Wright

Reviewed by Hannah Bissett

As a Mum who has experienced PP I was intrigued to read this book.  The author really evokes the area the book is set in, providing a landscape backdrop (and accurate weather, as a fellow northerner I know!) to the character’s story as it unfolds, intriguingly through a mixture of “Now” and “Then” chapters.  At first this slightly threw me in terms of what was going on in the story but it also intrigued me and as one reviewer also wrote, I too had devoured the book in the course of a weekend!  It is a gripping read – intertwining the present-day life of Leah and her recollection and reflections on past events, and her search for answers about her life and the people she brings into it in the aftermath of her husband’s death.

“A powerful story which will resonate for many”

The book reaches a climax with spine-tingling terror and reality, describing postpartum psychosis and the past events and present terror that culminates in a devastating final chapter.  An Author’s Note at the end of the book gives clear information about postpartum psychosis and also signposts to APP, emphasising the importance of getting help and treatment for this psychiatric emergency.  The book is not an easy read in places but it is a powerful story which will resonate for many and will stay with me too.

The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is available from all good retailers. Check out the publisher’s link for more information and how to buy.

 

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Wales Mother and Baby Unit Pamper Packs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A huge thank you to APP Volunteer Gemma for organising pamper packs to be delivered to the new Uned Gobaith (‘Unit of Hope’) Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Wales by our South Wales Team, Ines Beare, Danielle Thomas and Barbara Cunningham.

The packs included make-up items from Boots UK and Soap & Glory to help mums feel special and leaflets about APP’s peer support for mothers and families. Gemma organised the packs as a way of giving mums a little bit of “me time” to help their recovery, alongside the invaluable help and treatment that MBUs provide.

Gemma has been a volunteer with APP since 2018, and her husband Stephen ran a Virtual Marathon for APP in May 2021.  She previously organised pamper packs to be delivered to all MBUs before Christmas in 2020. You can read an article about this here.

Gemma says “I suffered with postpartum psychosis in 2017.  Through this I gained an understanding of severe anxiety and depression and wanted to train as a peer supporter in 2018 in order to support others through their recovery journey. I also support the Birmingham project through attending the cafe group and really enjoy making a positive impact on others’ recovery. In Christmas 2019 I returned to my own MBU in Stafford and was able to thank staff and provide a small number of pamper packs. I feel this is such an important step for mums not only to promote relaxation and self-care, but more importantly to raise awareness of APP, the support available and the ways in which they can get in touch.”

Danielle Thomas, APP’s Assistant South Wales Coordinator said ‘Ines, Barbara and I had the pleasure of dropping off some pamper packs for the mothers who are staying in the new Uned Gobaith. We are very grateful to be able to deliver these on behalf of APP and our Volunteer Gemma. They contained lots of self-care goodies to help lift the women's spirits and we have already received a message from one of the  mothers to say how lovely they were! Sending lots of love and good wishes to them, from us, and all at APP’.

Thank you Gemma, for all your hard work in organising the packs, and also to our South Wales Team Ines, Danielle and Barbara for delivering them to the Wales MBU.

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NHS partnership increases peer support across Black Country for mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis

Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is partnering with national charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) to expand specialist peer support services across the region.

Recruitment is currently underway for a dedicated peer support facilitator to work with mothers based in the Black Country who have experienced postpartum psychosis – a severe postnatal mental illness. The service will be managed by APP in conjunction with the Trust, to support women on their road to recovery.

Postpartum psychosis is a debilitating postnatal mental illness that can occur out of the blue. New mums with postpartum psychosis may develop high or low mood, or fluctuate between them, alongside delusions, hallucinations or severe confusion. Many of these mothers have had no previous mental health diagnosis prior to onset – although women with bipolar disorder are at higher risk. It affects around 1400 women and their families every year in the UK and is always a medical emergency. However, it is eminently treatable and most women go on to make a full recovery with the right support.

Dr Jess Heron, CEO, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “We currently run a number of successful peer support services across the country commissioned by the NHS, including one in partnership with nearby Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust. In combining this type of peer support with the necessary clinical care required we can ensure that women receive a truly holistic, sustained and specialist treatment. It can be daunting leaving hospital after experiencing something as confusing and frightening as postpartum psychosis, so making this additional support available within the community is invaluable for ongoing recovery. Being able to support women and families at this critical stage is key to reducing the trauma, giving hope, and helping women and families feel less alone as they navigate the recovery process.”

Hannah Bissett, National Co-ordinator (NHS Contracts & Regional Projects), Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “As a woman who has personally experienced postpartum psychosis I know how isolating and afraid it can make you feel. Peer support is a vital piece of the recovery jigsaw and we now have over 2,800 lived experience users sharing their stories and receiving support from trained volunteers as part of our national peer support forum.

“Having somebody there for you who knows exactly what you’re going through and who can inspire hope will undoubtedly bring a sense of relief and reassurance to women in the region who may find themselves experiencing postpartum psychosis. We’re delighted to be partnering with Black Country Healthcare on this project and I’m looking forward to hearing from applicants with lived experience interested in the peer support role.”

APP already delivers successful and award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, as well as managing a thriving online national peer support forum. The charity also provides peer support for partners of women who are experiencing or have experienced postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about the Peer Supporter role, visit www.app-network.org/jobs

 

 

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International Fathers Mental Health Day

For International Fathers Mental Health Day (21 June 2021), Simon, Partner Peer Support Facilitator for Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), shares a little of his own experience of supporting someone with postpartum psychosis and the effect it can have across the family.

Spotlight on postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (PP) - never even heard of it? Neither had I but it would shortly become one of the biggest learning experiences I’d ever endured and really tested my mental well-being.

In the first couple of weeks after my wife gave birth, I had noticed subtle changes in her mood, but, as a first-time father, I didn’t really know what was ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ after birth. A few weeks later and these changes took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, things became very scary, very quickly.

Over the next few days, she woke in the early hours ‘ghost like’, her mood had plummeted, she was anxious, confused, pacing around the house, having delusions and hallucinations, ultimately it all ended in a 999 call.  I found myself in complete turmoil and throughout our journey with PP, had times where I went through every emotion possible - from being terrified, to feeling isolated, worried about the future and even feeling guilt-ridden for decisions I’d had to take; with little sleep, the pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital.

Now working as the Partner Peer Support Facilitator for Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), the leading national charity for women, partners and families affected by PP, we know how difficult PP can be and how it affects not only the women who directly experience it, but also the partners and families who watch their loved ones go through it. This trauma can have a lasting effect on the wider family’s mental health, if not supported appropriately.

Father’s mental health

For partners, seeing the symptoms of PP first-hand can be a truly traumatic experience. The following are just a couple of the many quotes from partners:

“She just stood there and screamed.”

“Somehow she had changed the world and she was watching the news, in the belief that she would see herself on it and they would report on what she had done.”

During the initial crisis, many partners describe feeling like their world has been turned upside down, with little or no control over the situation. They often talk of not knowing what was happening, feeling alone and scared; desperate to find information and to help their partner.

Postpartum psychosis as a father or partner, feels very much like a journey with a number of possible stages, from the initial crisis, potential admission to hospital, returning home and recovery - all of which bring different feelings and concerns to the fore. Just holding it together, having to keep strong for your wife or family members can sometimes see you not considering or letting on how worried you are, which in turn can lead to fathers suffering with their own mental ill-health.

What is postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis (PP) is a severe but treatable form of mental illness. It usually starts within the first couple of days to weeks after childbirth. Some develop symptoms very quickly whereas for others, symptoms can be more gradual or come and go.  50% of women experience postpartum psychosis “out of the blue” with no previous history of mental health problems.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms often include:

• Confusion or racing thoughts

• Feeling unusually high or elated

• Being unable to or not needing to sleep

• Beliefs that are unusual or concerning to others

• Seeing, hearing or sensing things that others can’t

• Anxiety

There are a great many other symptoms that can be experienced and you can find more information by visiting the following link: www.app-network.org/early-symptoms

Getting help for your partner

It is important that PP is always treated as a medical emergency, which requires rapid intervention and is best treated in a specialised Mother and Baby Unit (MBU). With the right treatment and support, women with PP do make a full recovery and families are able to move on with their lives together.

• If your partner is under the care of a mental health team, contact them or your Crisis Team

• If your partner hasn’t been in mental health services before:

o See your GP urgently (the same day) or contact NHS 111

o If you cannot see your GP, go to your local A&E department

• If you think there is imminent danger (e.g. that your partner may hurt herself) call 999 and ask for an ambulance

Getting help for you

• Talk with your wife/partner’s medical team

• See your own GP

• Confide in a trusted family member or friend

• Speak to APP, see below and our website, for all our possible support options too

What’s the outlook for a family that has experienced PP?

Extremely good, with the right treatment the majority of women go on to make a full recovery and return to their normal selves, embracing motherhood and enjoying family life. While recovery can often be a long journey, there is hope and all of our storytellers and volunteers at APP, both women and their partners, are proof that people can and do recover.

Support at APP

We know that partners contact us at many different stages throughout their journey – whether in the early days of the crisis, partway through the journey or, in some instances, even years later.

APP are here to support you along the journey, no matter when you feel you need it. Our website has lots of information, guides and links to getting help:

Action on Postpartum Psychosis | National charity supporting women and families

• 1:1 chat support via email, call or video

• Resources for Partners - https://www.app-network.org/partners

• PP Insider Guides – includes a partner guide - https://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/app-guides

• APP Partners Group on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/groups/APPpartnersgroup

• Partner virtual café

Please do get in touch if we can help you, see our website or email app@app-network.org

More on Action for Postpartum Psychosis

APP is the leading charity supporting women, partners and families affected by PP. It’s a collaborative project run by people who have lived experience of PP, specialist health professionals and academic experts from Birmingham & Cardiff universities; our aims include:

• To provide up to date information to women and their families who have experienced PP

• To facilitate a peer support network for women and their families

• To increase awareness of PP, its symptoms, management and impact among health professionals and the general public

• To facilitate research into all aspects of PP

• To advocate for improved services for women and their families

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New play shines humorous light into the darkest corners of motherhood

 

after birth, written by Zena Forster and directed by Grace Duggan, is a new comedy deeply rooted in the real life testimonies of women who have experienced postpartum psychosis, including many women within the APP network.

The play is being brought to life by Maiden Moor Productions and will open on Monday 10 June at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford. Imaginatively staged, with elements of stand-up and a dynamic original sound score, after birth takes us on a journey of recovery.

The story revolves around holiday camp entertainer Ann, who, alongside the Virgin Mary, has been detained without trial on a medieval plague island in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon.  Buffoonish and malevolent by turns, their doctors are intent on curing them of their heinous crime - Being A Bad Mum.   This is the world of Ann’s mind.  after birth’s protagonist is experiencing postpartum psychosis after the birth of her baby.

The lead character’s experiences might be extreme, but they are recognisable and relatable: what mother hasn’t felt judged, or been demoralised by the myth of the perfect mum?

Playwright Zena Forster said; “Just as the women I interviewed didn’t want to be defined by their illness, after birth isn’t a play about psychosis, it’s a play about a tough, witty woman who happens to have psychosis.  The women I interviewed were amazing – courageous, inspirational and often very funny, it was natural that my protagonist was like that too.”

Grace Duggan, Director said, “Zena has created this incredibly detailed and responsive play about the realities of postpartum psychosis.  after birth doesn’t hold its tongue, it doesn’t shield us from the truth, and it doesn’t stop us from awkwardly laughing with a psychotic mother. We want people to start talking about postpartum psychosis and continue the discussion about the pressure of motherhood. Through our characters and with this story we hope to expose it all and have a laugh along the way.”

after birth grew out of collaboration between Zena Forster and researchers at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), Oxford University. For 40 years the NPEU has been the ‘go to’ international centre of research into women’s physical and mental health.  Their annual reports have consistently shown that in the UK suicide stubbornly remains the leading direct cause of maternal death between six weeks and one year after birth, with women from ethnically diverse communities disproportionately affected. The NPEU were keen to find new ways of disseminating their findings with a view to effecting change.

Zena interviewed many women with lived experience of postpartum psychosis, travelling miles around the country to do so. Both Zena and director Grace Duggan dramaturged the piece extensively, developing it significantly for performance in 2021. after birth was awarded the Propeller 2020 opportunity by North Wall, Oxford which includes three performance dates 10, 11, 12 June 2021. A film of the staged performance is also being made and the NPEU are undertaking further research of how this filmed performance could be used in both therapeutic settings and in health professional education.

The time has never been riper for a recovery story. after birth is an opposite celebration of resilience in the face of inequality and adversity. There is a growing need and appetite for work that explores the disadvantages that women face in our unequal, patriarchal society.  Between eight and nine out of ten women in the UK will become mothers. The pandemic has exposed and heightened the inequalities they face.  More and more evidence is emerging that maternal mental health has suffered over the last year, with black and brown mums disproportionately affected. after birth creates a timely space for us to talk about these pressing issues.

As an international centre for research into women’s health and as a vibrant creative hub, Oxford was the perfect place for this play to be developed. Oxford’s North Wall has long been committed to nurturing creative talent – Alice Vilanculo (actor), Will Alder (sound design), Grace Duggan (director) all received early career support through the theatre’s various development programmes and are delighted to be back in Oxford as established artists.  Likewise, Oxfordshire Theatre Makers (OTM) and Arts at the Old Fire Station provided backing and opportunities to develop and promote the play.  Oxford’s supportive city council provided important early seed funding.  Oxford colleges have helped with funding too. after birth’s playwright Zena Forster is based in Oxford, as is Bafta award winning film maker Jo Eliot who will be filming the performance.

Commenting on  after birth, Professor  Rachel Rowe, Senior Health Services Researcher, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit said “through after birth we hope to engage audiences with research evidence about maternal mental health, to raise awareness, reduce stigma, encourage discussion and ultimately improve care and outcomes for women affected by postnatal mental illness. The play promotes some key public health messages about postnatal mental health, but importantly it’s also funny and full of hope – it should be a really good night out.”

To book tickets, click here

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APP urges HSC Northern Ireland to invest in ‘critical’ Mother and Baby Unit to save lives

Representatives from Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) are speaking at the Northern Ireland Maternal Mental Health Conference this week to raise awareness of postpartum psychosis and the need for specialist life-saving facilities.

Postpartum psychosis is always a medical emergency and yet, while many parts of the UK now have specialist Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) to treat women experiencing this severe mental illness, Northern Ireland, North Wales, Northern Scotland and the Republic of Ireland currently have no such facilities.

MBUs accommodate multidisciplinary teams of experts able to care for both the physical and emotional needs of new mothers. They have specialist knowledge of the issues surrounding medication management in pregnancy and the postnatal period. Presently, because women in Northern Ireland do not have access to an MBU, they would be admitted to a general psychiatric unit – resulting in separation from their baby during this critical time, with potential lifelong consequences for both mother and baby.

Dr Sally Wilson, National Research and Training Co-ordinator, APP, who is speaking at the conference on Thursday (6 May) said: “Postpartum Psychosis is a devastating mental illness that can occur completely out of the blue and it always requires emergency specialist care. However, if affected families are able to quickly access the right treatment, the prognosis is good and women recover. MBUs are a vital service for mothers experiencing severe forms of postnatal mental illness, and we believe that every woman experiencing postpartum psychosis should have access to this critical specialist support.”

Postpartum psychosis is a severe postnatal mental illness that affects 1,400 women and their families every year in the UK – from all backgrounds. Half of cases are ‘out of the blue’ with women having no history of mental illness. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, mania, depression, restlessness, anxiety, confusion, and erratic behaviour  - which can manifest within days of childbirth. With the right treatment, women can fully recover.

Dr Jess Heron, CEO, APP said: “We’ve been campaigning for more Mother and Baby Units for many years. We hear so often from women and families about how traumatising and inappropriate general unit admission was. Our research shows that women who receive care for postpartum psychosis within an MBU feel more satisfied with the care they receive, they feel safer, more confident in staff, more confident with their baby, and are able to recover more quickly. These are essential services, not nice-to-haves, and they play a critical role in keeping families together and saving lives.”

The Northern Ireland Maternal Mental Health Conference takes place on Thursday 6 May during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. It aims to bring together parents, health services and the third sector to ensure that nobody is left alone to struggle with postnatal mental illness.

Both Dr Sally Wilson, National Research and Training Co-ordinator, APP and Ellie Ware, National Peer Support Co-ordinator, APP have experienced PP personally and will be presenting on behalf of the charity. Delegates can expect to hear more on what postpartum psychosis is, why it’s always a medical emergency, what care pathways for PP should look like, and why MBUs are essential. They will also discuss the importance of peer support and the myriad ways APP can support women and families, including some of the organisation’s future plans in Northern Ireland.

To book your place, and to find out more, click here

For further information on postpartum psychosis, or to access peer support, visit www.app-network.org

APP volunteer, Oorlagh Quinn, launched a petition calling for an MBU in Northern Ireland. To find out more about Oorlagh’s campaign and to sign, click here

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Raising awareness of postpartum psychosis this Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week

This week (3 – 9 May) marks Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign organised by The Perinatal Mental Health Partnership to raise awareness of the fact that 1 in 10 women experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the first year after birth.

At APP, we know that postpartum psychosis plays a key role within this and it can have a devastating impact on many women and their families. In fact, postpartum psychosis can affect 1-2 in every 1,000 new mothers in the UK each year, and a lack of awareness makes it harder for families to reach out for help and more challenging for health professional to spot the signs.

As such, we are going to be using the week to further raise awareness of this illness and campaign for better services – including more Mother and Baby Units to help keep families together and to recover more quickly.

 

How you can help

We’d love for as many people as possible to help us spread our message and signpost people to support and there are many ways you can do this:

  • Share our social media graphics. Hop on over to Twitter (@ActionOnPP) or Instagram (@actiononpp) and share our ‘What is Postpartum Psychosis’ content – not forgetting to tag us and use the relevant hashtags too (#postpartumpsychosis and #MaternalMentalHealthAwarenessWeek)


  • On your own social media, share why you think Mother and Baby Units are important, tagging @ActionOnPP

 

  • If you’ve experienced postpartum psychosis and would like to join our peer support or storyteller network, please sign up using this form.

 

 

 

For further information on postpartum psychosis please use this link

If you are in urgent need of help, please follow this link for useful information

 

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Peer support service launches in Morpeth for mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis

A partnership between Cumbria Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) and national charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) is creating an invaluable peer support service for women experiencing severe mental illness following the birth of their child.

The Beadnell Mother and Baby Unit in Morpeth, which is run by CNTW, has contracted APP to deliver this much-needed support. APP is currently recruiting for someone who has experienced postpartum psychosis to join the team as a part time Peer Support Worker.

The Mother and Baby Unit exists to support women experiencing severe mental illness in pregnancy and following birth, with specialist support available to treat conditions such as severe postnatal depression and postpartum psychosis. The Unit also provides specialist mother and baby classes, activities such as parent and child swimming and baby massage classes, and overnight facilities for partners – with the core aim of keeping families together to support a faster recovery and better quality of life.

Postpartum psychosis is a debilitating postnatal mental illness that can occur out of the blue. New mums with postpartum psychosis may develop high or low mood, or fluctuate between them, alongside delusions, hallucinations or severe confusion. Many of these mothers have had no previous mental health diagnosis prior to onset – although women with bipolar disorder are at higher risk. It affects around 1400 women and their families every year in the UK and is always a medical emergency. However, it is eminently treatable and most women go on to make a full recovery with the right support.

Allison Spiers, Ward Manager at the Beadnell Mother and Baby Unit, said: “We work very closely with APP to support mothers who are experiencing postpartum psychosis, and we are really pleased to be growing that relationship by welcoming a new Peer Supporter employed by APP into our team.  Not only will they offer vital one-on-one support to new mothers at a very distressing time in their lives, this Peer Supporter will also support group work with the women on our unit, and provide training to ensure our whole team continue to develop an in-depth understanding of postpartum psychosis. At CNTW we believe that service users and carers with lived experience of mental ill-health should be at the heart of everything we do, and employing Peer Support staff is an integral part of this.”

Dr Jess Heron, CEO, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “We know that CNTW are already big believers in the value of peer support and lived experience engagement. The service that they provide to new mothers and families at the Mother and Baby Unit is outstanding, and, by combining this with the new peer support role women will receive a truly holistic and specialist treatment. Being able to support women and families at this critical stage, as they go through this frightening experience and begin to recover, is key to reducing the trauma, giving hope, and helping women and families feel less alone as they navigate the recovery process.

“This vital service will benefit women affected by postpartum psychosis and their families across the wider North East region. As a national charity we are campaigning to see more Mother and Baby Units like this one open up around the UK, to help save lives, promote recovery and to keep families together.”

Hannah Bissett, National Co-ordinator (NHS Contracts & Regional Projects), Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “As a woman who has personally experienced postpartum psychosis I know how isolating and afraid it can make you feel. Peer support is a vital piece of the recovery jigsaw and we now have over 2,800 lived experience users sharing their stories and receiving support from trained volunteers as part of our national peer support forum.

“Having somebody there for you who knows exactly what you’re going through and who can inspire hope will undoubtedly bring a sense of relief and reassurance to women in the region who may find themselves experiencing postpartum psychosis. We’re delighted to be partnering with CNTW on this project and I’m looking forward to starting to build our volunteer team and hearing from applicants with lived experience interested in the peer support role.”

APP already delivers successful and award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, as well as managing a thriving online national peer support forum. The charity also provides peer support for partners of women who are experiencing or have experienced postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about the Peer Supporter role, click here

 

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Only Mother and Baby Unit of its kind in Wales to open in Swansea Bay

A new unit has been set up to help women in Wales who experience serious mental health problems during pregnancy and following the birth of their child.

Uned Gobaith (‘Unit of Hope’) will be the only inpatient unit of its kind in Wales to offer multidisciplinary mental health care to women from 32 weeks of pregnancy until their baby is one year old.

Until now, mothers who needed serious mental health care have either been supported in the community, admitted to acute mental health wards without their babies, or have had to travel to one of the specialist mother and baby units in England.

At present, the closest unit for women living in the Swansea Bay UHB area is in Bristol.

Based at Tonna Hospital, near Neath, the new unit is designed to be a home away from home where mums will have access to specialist care for themselves and their babies.

It has six individual bedrooms for women and their little ones. Mums who are admitted will also have access to a shared living room and kitchen areas along with a playroom, quiet room and sensory room.

In addition, accommodation will be available for family members travelling from further away to visit their loved ones.

Supporting the mothers and their babies on site will be a multidisciplinary team that includes psychologists, mental health nurses and psychiatrists, as well as social workers, health visitors and midwives.

Nursery nurses will be on hand around the clock too, to look after babies while mothers rest or receive treatment.

Uned Gobaith was commissioned by the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee, and made possible thanks to Welsh Government funding and support from mental health specialists in community and inpatient care.

A patient and service user group also gave crucial feedback during the development process, and chose the unit’s name.

Dr Jess Heron, CEO, Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP), added “APP’s staff and lived experience volunteers in Wales have been campaigning for this unit for several years, and we have worked closely with the MBU development group to ensure that the voices of women with Lived Experience have shaped all aspects of the design of the new unit. Today’s news is testament to the power of positive collaboration, shared experiences and person-centred approaches to care.”

Toni Evans, 34, from Port Talbot, experienced serious mental health problems during and after her second pregnancy. Now a member of the patient group, she believes a local unit like Uned Gobaith would have made a huge difference to her treatment and recovery.

“It just got worse and worse as the pregnancy went on,” Toni said.

“The depression just got unbearable. I remember ringing my husband on the way to work one day saying that I was going to drive into a wall because I just needed help. Obviously I didn’t, but I just wanted to get out of it.

“Once the baby was born, I started medication straight away, but within two weeks my mental health deteriorated even further.”

Toni was seen by a mental health crisis team and, with the support of her “amazing” midwife, she was admitted to an acute mental health ward.

This type of ward has no facilities for babies or small children so Toni spent three days away from Sarah while she was assessed.

While she was in hospital, a member of the Perinatal Response and Management Service (PRAMS) team (which works with women at risk of developing mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth) told Toni a space was available at a specialist mother and baby mental health unit in Derby.

“At this point I couldn’t really think, I couldn’t answer questions so my husband had to say yes for me,” Toni said.

Toni and Sarah made the daunting 180-mile journey with two chaperones and a driver she had not met before. Arriving at 8pm, she struggled to get her bearings properly in a completely unfamiliar place.

“When we finally got to the unit, I didn’t want the chaperones to leave – they were part of home, they were Welsh, they were from where I’m from,” Toni said.

“I was being left in England, in a different country to where my family was.”

While Toni did make good progress in the seven weeks she was at the unit, the distance between her and Sarah in Derby, and her husband and son at home in South Wales was very hard for them all.

“My husband would come and visit but it had to be every other weekend because he had to take time off work and take my son out of school,” Toni said.

“And it cost a lot of money, driving up there and staying in a hotel.”

If there had been a unit closer to home, Toni believes it would have made a real difference to her family, her recovery and her transition back to home life.

“The people that I was in the unit with were local so they would have visitors a few times a week. I really was on my own up there,” she added.

The distance also meant that Toni went through a different going home process. While other patients would get to go back to their families for a few hours at a time before building up to overnight stays or weekends, Toni travelled to Port Talbot for week-long stays.

She had the support of local mental health specialists but it was hard for her to drop back into home life again.

“That was a difficult transition to go from being in the unit where you are so incubated and then back into the big wide world for a week with the baby and your family and everyday life,” Toni said.

“Some mums would go home for a little bit and it would be too much but they could go back to the unit.

“I didn’t have that choice. I had to travel four hours home and then if I didn’t like it, I’d have to go four hours back.

“It was just more pressure. I didn’t want to make my husband do that trip unnecessarily when he was doing it on weekends. It felt like I should suck it up and get on with it at home.

“It made a big difference to my recovery.”

After seven weeks of support and mental health treatment at the unit in Derby, Toni and Sarah made the journey home for a final time.

That was not the end of Toni’s mental health journey, however. When Sarah was six months old, Toni had a manic episode and went back into hospital for four weeks.

But this time there were no beds available in any mother and baby unit, so Toni was taken to a mixed acute mental health ward - without Sarah.

Toni has since been diagnosed as bipolar and is taking positive steps forward in her mental health journey.

But she feels that if she had been able to go to a unit closer to home, her experience of inpatient treatment would have been “completely different” – and is vital for other mothers’ recovery.

“I think it would have been a lot smoother and I wouldn’t have felt so isolated there. I was missing my son – at the time he was four years old – and my husband.

“I felt like I had taken the baby away from them because they weren’t able to visit,” Toni said.

“A unit here is just going to make an unbelievable difference for mothers in Wales. It definitely would have made a difference to me.”

Uned Gobaith is due to open in mid-April and will be accepting mothers and babies for treatment immediately.

Janet Williams, Associate Service Director of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities at Swansea Bay University Health Board, has been part of the team leading the unit’s development.

Janet said, “When Uned Gobaith opens, we will be able to help women like Toni who are experiencing serious mental health problems, and their babies, in a safe environment much closer to home.

“This important service will significantly enhance perinatal care services across Wales and we are very proud to be hosting it in Swansea Bay University Health Board.

“It will be the only mother and baby unit of its kind in Wales, and its development has only been possible with support from a wide range of experts, teams and patients across the country.”

Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Eluned Morgan, said: “It is fantastic news that we have our own perinatal mother and baby unit in Wales to support those struggling with their mental health.

“This will make a significant difference to the experience of new mothers as they will be able to get the specialist support that they and their babies need closer to home.

“We all know that the pandemic restrictions have added to the challenges during this last year and so I welcome the addition of this facility which will complement our strengthened perinatal community offer.”

Sharon Fernandez, National Clinical Lead for Perinatal Mental Health, said: “The opening of Uned Gobaith is a huge step forward for the treatment of pregnant women and new mothers experiencing severe mental distress.

“Providing this kind of specialised mental and emotional support for women at one of the most vulnerable times in their life is essential, and the family-friendly environment Uned Gobaith offers means that partners and older children can be involved and get the support they need too.

“As a network, we were very pleased to play a role in the development of Uned Gobaith.

“Its opening is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of everyone involved, especially the many women who shared their own personal experiences of perinatal mental health difficulties in order to improve services for others.”

 

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