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Peer support service launches in Morpeth for mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis

Posted: 23/04/21

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 at St George’s Park Hospital 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.

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.

Hannah BissettNational Co-ordinator (NHS Contracts & Regional Projects), Action on Postpartum Psychosis

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 1,400 women and their families every year in the UK and is always a medical emergency. However, it is  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 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.

For further information about postpartum psychosis, or to access peer support, visit the Action on Postpartum Psychosis website.