More perinatal mental health training urged for midwives and health visitors

Survey shows 72% of midwives and health visitors believe training about pre and postnatal mental illness is insufficient.

A high percentage of midwives and health visitors believe the current amount of training on perinatal mental illness is insufficient, a survey shows.

More support is needed for women with pregnancy-related
mental health problems.  Picture: iStock

The survey, published by charity Pre and PostNatal Depression Advice and Support (Pandas) and the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, shows that of 419 midwives and health visitors surveyed 72% are concerned about insufficient training.

A total of 32% of midwives and health visitors said they received only one to three hours of formal education about perinatal mental illnesses during their initial training.

Following qualification, 35% of midwives and health visitors say they were then provided with just one to three hours of yearly training on perinatal mental illnesses.  

No time

Some 45% of respondents said they were not offered any additional non-mandatory training on pre- or postnatal mental illnesses.

Over a quarter said their patient appointments are too short to fit the discussion in and 16% said they are not confident about talking to clients about prenatal mental illnesses.

A total of 40% said their trust referral system did not work well for their patients.

Minimise risk

Pandas managing director Donna Collins said: ‘We were expecting to see a lack of training to a certain extent, and also a lack of confidence when dealing with perinatal mental illness. However, these results took us by surprise.

‘Clearly there is an opportunity during the course of antenatal care that could minimise these risk factors. Indeed, proactively getting these women the help they need earlier could prevent suffering, save costs and reduce the impact of this terrible illness.

‘Is it not as simple as passing this over to midwifery services, though. They have very limited time during these antenatal appointments, and therefore parental antenatal classes should be given in addition to routine antenatal care.’

Investment needed

She said classes could be invaluable in sharing knowledge surrounding perinatal illness, but that investment is key along with training.

RCM professional policy adviser Janet Fyle said: ‘Support for women with pregnancy-related mental health problems is improving but there is still a long way to go.’

She warned of a shortage of specialist maternal mental health midwives and called for government investment in midwifery services.