Career advice

Learning how to manage perinatal mental illness

Many women have mental health problems during pregnancy or in the year after birth. A new course aims to equip professionals to manage mental illness in mothers.

Many women have mental health problems during pregnancy or in the year after birth. A new course aims to equip professionals to manage mental illness in mothers 

mothers mental illness
One in ten women have mental health issues during pregnancy or in the year after birth.
Picture: Alamy

With more than one in ten women developing a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the first year afterwards, healthcare professionals need the skills to be able to support them effectively.

Now one of the UK’s largest universities, Sheffield Hallam, is launching a course for health and social care staff. The post-graduate certificate in perinatal and maternal mental health focuses on mental illnesses and their management, equipping students to manage potential risks and complications.

‘If untreated, perinatal mental illnesses can have a devastating impact on the women affected and their families,’ says Kirsty Schofield, course leader and senior lecturer in midwifery. ‘This course has been designed in partnership with stakeholders to find out what support they need for their services, in terms of education and training. I’m not aware of any other courses like ours. It’s an exciting development.’

Tackling maternal mental health is a primary goal of the World Health Organization (WHO).

More complex needs

‘Women and their families are now presenting with more complex needs,’ says Ms Schofield. ‘And increasing pressures within the health service means that women are often going home earlier from hospital, with continuing support in the community.’

Launching this September, the distance-learning course hopes to attract a variety of professionals, including midwives, health visitors, mental health nurses, social workers, GPs and those working in the third sector – non-governmental and non-profit organisations such as volunteer groups and charities.

‘They will be encouraged to learn from one another to create care pathways that are seamless,’ says Ms Schofield.

Care pathways

The first of two modules – running to the end of February – will help to develop the necessary skills to recognise maternal mental illness in pregnancy and during the first year of the postnatal period, helping students to create individual care pathways.

It will look at a variety of mental health conditions and their management, including personality disorders, eating disorders, tokophobia (fear of pregnancy), self-harming, schizophrenia, puerperal psychosis, fabricated illness, substance misuse and antenatal and postnatal depression.

The perinatal mental health and the family module – running from March to August – will help develop skills to recognise the short- and long-term impacts of maternal mental health on the child’s development, helping students to gain a deeper understanding of family relationships.

Give them a voice

‘Professionals can dip into one or both, with credits for each,’ says Ms Schofield. For those who want to continue their professional development, these can be used towards a master’s degree. 

Created for around 15 participants, the virtual learning course with timetabled online discussions will enable all students to share their learning. ‘The key to the course will be collaboration with other disciplines and colleagues from across the UK and even internationally – that will be very interesting, as it will show different ways of working,’ says Ms Schofield.

Overall, the aim is to develop practitioners’ confidence through scenario-based learning. ‘We want them to have sound knowledge that helps them support women,’ says Ms Schofield. ‘If you have the evidence behind you and the confidence to liaise with other professionals, you can help to develop robust services that will give these women a voice.’
Applications are now open. To find out more, visit the university website.

Lynne Pearce is a freelance health writer


This article is for subscribers only