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Perinatal mental health services will provide support for fathers

Mental health assessment to be offered to partners of mothers with mental health issues

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 04 December 2018

The partners of pregnant women and new mothers experiencing mental health issues are to be offered a comprehensive mental health assessment and sign-posted to professional support if needed, NHS England has announced.

It will mean that partners of expectant and new mothers who are seriously unwell will be offered a range of help such as peer-support, behavioural couples therapy sessions and other family and parenting interventions in specialist community perinatal mental health settings or referred to a leading psychological talking therapy programme.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the expansion of perinatal mental health services to cover fathers will be set out in the forthcoming NHS long-term plan.

“At what should be one of the happiest moments of our lives, caring for a partner suffering mental ill health when a new baby arrives is a difficult and often lonely experience. Alongside the backup and friendship of other new parents in NCT and other groups, the NHS has a role to play in helping support the whole family. These days dads and partners are rightly expected to be more hands on and NHS mental health services also need to step up and support families at times of extreme stress and anxiety,” he said.

There is growing evidence of the mental health risk new and expectant fathers face. In the first six months after the birth of a baby, estimates put the prevalence rates of anxiety and depression symptoms in men at up to one in 10, while one in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy and the first year after birth.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director said: “NHS has made huge strides forward in improving mental health care for new mums and ensuring their partners are properly supported too is the next logical step.”

Specialist community perinatal mental health teams, offering evidence-based psychiatric and psychological assessments and treatment for women with moderate to severe mental health problems during the perinatal period, are set to cover the whole country by April next year. They can also provide pre-conception advice for women with a current or past severe mental illness who are planning a pregnancy.

NHS England is also expanding the current mother and baby unit bed capacity by 49%, so that there should be more than 160 beds for severely mentally unwell mothers to receive specialist care with their babies across England. Three new units have recently opened - two eight bedded units in Kent and Lancashire, and a four bedded unit in Devon – and another will open in East Anglia in the New Year.

Dr Giles Berrisford is associate national clinical director for perinatal mental health for NHS England said: “The expansion of perinatal mental health services with specialised community and inpatient beds helps to ensure mums with severe perinatal mental illnesses receive the help they need, when they need it. It is essential to support those people who care for these mums the most – their partners. This targeted support will help to achieve this.”

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