This World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September), APP is calling for more awareness and support for perinatal mental health as maternal suicides continue to devastate families around the world.
Suicide accounts for around 20% (1 in 5) deaths in the postnatal period worldwide. Before APP existed as a charity, postpartum psychosis (PP) was responsible for almost half of all maternal suicides in the UK. While there has been a sharp decline in PP related deaths over the last decade since the charity’s inception, numbers have been on the rise since the pandemic.
Dr Jess Heron, CEO, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “Over the last decade, national awareness of PP has improved, health professional training increased, we have more Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) beds and better support services for women struggling with PP.
“But we are concerned that, following a decade long decline in PP related deaths, we have recently seen an increase in bereaved families coming to APP. This rise in PP related deaths has multiple and complex causes that need to be explored and responded to before more women’s lives are tragically and needlessly lost. In the meantime, we all need to know how to look out for PP in our loved ones as they start their families.”
PP is a serious but eminently treatable perinatal mental illness that affects around 1400 women every year in the UK. It occurs in the days, weeks or months after birth, and should always be treated as a medical emergency, with swift admission to a specialist MBU wherever possible.
Symptoms might include hallucinations, delusions, severe confusion, mania and agitation. Early warning signs might include feeling overly excited or elated, being unable or not wanting to sleep, becoming paranoid or anxious, extremely active or feeling like ‘super mum’ or as though everyday events on the TV or radio have special personal meaning.
Earlier this year in Northern Ireland – where there are currently no MBU beds – a coroner ruled that the tragic death by suicide of Orlaith Quinn, who was suffering from PP, was both foreseeable and preventable. Spotting the signs early and arranging for an emergency referral to a specialist MBU is paramount in preventing PP related deaths, and yet there is no mandatory training in PP for health professionals, antenatal education rarely includes mention of awareness of PP, and there is a shortage of beds across the UK – particularly in NI, Northern Scotland and North Wales.
Dr Heron added: “All PP-related deaths are preventable. But we need the right treatment pathways in place – and healthcare professionals, be they GPs, crisis teams or first responders - need a basic awareness of the signs and symptoms so women and their families can be supported as a matter of urgency. That’s why we are encouraging participation in our short training programmes. Having just a basic knowledge and some understanding of what to look out for could save a life. And that is no exaggeration.”
Free webinar for health professionals
In light of this, APP is hosting a Memorial Lecture in October, in memory of Alex Baish, a teacher and new mum who died while experiencing the symptoms of PP last year. Taking place on Wednesday 18 October between 12pm and 1.30pm, the free webinar is aimed at GPs, midwives, antenatal educators and frontline responders. The event titled “Essential Knowledge for Preventing Maternal Suicide” will describe the symptoms, red flags and actions needed to support and protect women who develop the condition and includes a Q&A with speakers and APP’s clinical, academic and lived experience experts.