NHS releases guidance to help staff support new mums with mental health difficulties

The NHS has released a new ‘good practice guide’ for staff in specialist perinatal mental health services.

The guide was created by a team of clinicians and researchers from Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and several UK universities.

Commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvement, the collaborative project places an emphasis on supporting new and expectant mothers with mental health difficulties by focusing on the wellbeing of their families and loved ones, too.

The team, comprising staff from the trust and a number of higher education institutions – including the University of Leeds, King’s College London, and the University of Surrey and South London – produced both a publication and an animated video to help guide healthcare staff.

The new NHS-funded guide outlines key principles and ideas for involving and supporting partners and other family members. This includes acknowledging the mental health and wider support needs of fathers, other co-parents or partners; considering the needs of other children; being aware of cultural differences and appreciating how diverse families can be.

To produce the literature and video, the team worked with families, NHS services and community organisations to explore how services can assist those closest to new mothers with moderate to severe mental health difficulties.

Dr Zoe Darwin, who led the project for the University of Leeds while at the School of Healthcare, said: “When a mother experiences a mental health difficulty during pregnancy or after their baby’s birth, the whole family can be affected. It can be a very stressful time for everyone concerned. 

“By drawing on recent research, expert opinion, and practice examples from individual services, we hope to encourage change at a national level in how we care for families.”

The guide encourages perinatal mental health services to follow three underpinning principles:

Think Family – consider the needs of the whole family; how family members can be included in the mother’s care and be supported individually.

The Perinatal Frame of Mind – thinking about the needs of multiple family members and their mental health, how this affects the mother and baby, and how the absence of a partner or lack of support from the family may affect the mother, baby and mother-baby relationship.

Stay Curious – thinking inclusively about how families are formed, and being open minded about who may be important to the mother. 

Dr Darwin also said that consultation with stakeholders had highlighted the importance of inclusivity, in relation to parents from ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ parents, and to lone parents.

She added: “Working in this way is also important for addressing inequalities. Around one in 10 fathers experience mental health difficulties during pregnancy or after a baby’s birth and currently their needs are largely undetected and unmet. In addition, minority groups face increased vulnerability to perinatal mental health disorders and barriers to accessing services.”

The full guide is available on the NHS England website, and the video can be accessed via YouTube.