Tag Archives: perinatal mental health services

Gina’s story - My paranoia got worse on the psych ward – I only started to recover when I was reunited with my baby

I was taken by ambulance to an acute psychiatric mixed ward without my baby. I’d been having delusions since a couple of days after giving birth and at home things had got much worse. It was only when I was taken to Bethlem MBU and reunited with my baby that I finally started to trust people and get on the road to recovery.

My pregnancy was straightforward, a very lovely pregnancy. But I was overdue so things didn’t exactly go as planned and I ended up having an emergency c section. Unfortunately, both my baby and I had an infection so we ended up being on the postnatal ward for a week rather than the couple of days I was expecting. I had severe insomnia and I was taking strong pain medication and I think this might have all played a part in me getting unwell.

So I was in pain, medicated, emotional and exhausted. But I think the turning point was when I received a message from a friend with some bad news about another close friend of ours, which triggered some strange thoughts and symptoms in me and some extreme paranoia.

For example, I noticed that when someone sent me a message, my response wanted to say happy new year or happy Christmas and I couldn’t understand why I wanted to write it. I also believed that I was being tested as to whether or not I was a good enough mum. And every time there was a bleeping sound on the ward I thought it was because I had done something wrong.

I filled in a form to say that I wasn’t feeling great mentally, but as my paranoia got worse, I retracted the letter. I asked for it back and ripped it up. And then, even though I wasn’t well, at times I appeared, on the outside, to be fine. So it was decided that I was going home with my baby.

When I finally got home, all the paranoia ramped up and I never slept. I was stuck in the house and there were people coming and going – midwives, health visitors, family members.

It got to a point where I was really confused. I couldn’t give the midwife the correct information, and when my family visited from America I was confused about who was who and started imagining that my niece was my long lost daughter. Then I started going through phases believing that my son had died – so much so that when I went to register the birth I was convinced they were going to hand me a death certificate.

I just questioned everyone and everything felt really trippy, and I became obsessed with things like clocks, so my mum removed all the clocks from the house.

My family, realising there was something very wrong, tried to work together to get me some help. Eventually I was visited by paramedics and then a doctor who I think prescribed me an antipsychotic – they were trying to treat me at home at that point.

Meanwhile, my mum was doing her own research and found out about postpartum psychosis – so, in a way, it was my mum who diagnosed me! But I became quite aggressive and frightened, so they had to call the police and the paramedics, and I even had to be handcuffed in order to be taken to hospital.

They took me by ambulance to an acute psychiatric mixed ward without my baby.

The ambulance ride was frightening because I was convinced I was in grave danger and I thought all the medical professionals were fake – I thought they were really all terrorists.

So when I finally got into hospital I refused to eat or sleep or take medication. I was paranoid about everyone and everything.

Nothing was working and I was in full-blown psychosis, at the peak of my illness, and without my baby. Everything seemed crazy to me - but I was the one being crazy. I started doing morse code on the window, and became paranoid about different colours – anyone who had a pen or who was wearing anything in the colour blue I simply couldn’t trust.

As I wasn’t getting any better, they decided to take me by private ambulance to Bethlem Royal to the MBU there.

Thankfully, not long after getting to the MBU, things started to change.

I don’t know if I felt more comfortable because there were more women there, and because my son was able to come and stay with me, but I started trusting the staff and taking my medication.

I think it was also because there was more of a normal kind of atmosphere in the MBU and there was a really good programme with specialists who knew all about mums and babies. I had lots of help learning how to make a bottle up and how to change my baby’s nappy – something that was invaluable because, with PP, everything seems ten times harder. Plus, knowing my son was safe and close by meant I was able to start sleeping. I started getting a good eight hours sleep!

I stayed in the MBU for nine weeks.

I 100% believe that if I had gone in the MBU straight away I would have started my recovery straight away.

I think my parents and my husband were given the option of an MBU at the start, but they didn’t really understand what it all meant so I really wish there was more awareness about specialist services and why they’re so important.

Now I feel I’ve fully recovered. Since my son turned seven months I’ve been so active with him, visiting friends, going to baby groups. I love being a mum and I feel like I’ve been making up for lost time – doing all the normal things new mums do.

I’ve also gone back to work and I now work with a charity that helps people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. And I’ve started a mother and baby group to help provide peer support and a place for mums to be able to talk freely with other mums.

While the whole experience of having postpartum psychosis – and the anxiety and postnatal depression that followed - was frightening, in some ways I’m glad I experienced it. It’s helped me to relate to people, and to provide support to others because of my lived experience which is really valuable in my job, too.

I feel that its so important for me to be able to share that there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope - even when you’re seriously unwell like I was.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

Expanded Perinatal Mental Health Team Film Launch

Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust today released a great video to highlight the expansion of specialist psychiatric support for mothers who experience mental illness.

Two families share stories of recovery in the film, including a mum who experienced Postpartum Psychosis after the birth of her first child. She and her husband are now expecting again, having taken advice from the perinatal mental health team and put a care plan in place. Their story begins about 6 minutes in.