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Health visitors call for better training to help new mothers who have mental health problems

Health visitors believe they need more training to better support new mothers experiencing mental health problems, according to new research.

Health visitors believe they need more training to better support new mothers experiencing mental health problems, according to new research

Estimates suggest up to 30% of all women experience mental health issues during pregnancy or in the year after delivery.

In addition, 50% of women with perinatal mental ill health go unidentified, while evidence has found that the cost of not treating these types of conditions far outweighs the cost of treatment.

Oxford Brookes University PhD student Catherine Lowenhoff has been examining health visitors attitudes, beliefs and practice towards support for mothers experiencing mental health issues.

Speaking at the RCN International Research Conference in Oxford on Friday, she said: There are issues about all sorts of things training came up again

Health visitors believe they need more training to better support new mothers experiencing mental health problems, according to new research


Uncertainty over how to support health visitors has been highlighted
at the RCN International Nursing Research Conference 2017
Picture: iStock

Estimates suggest up to 30% of all women experience mental health issues during pregnancy or in the year after delivery.

In addition, 50% of women with perinatal mental ill health go unidentified, while evidence has found that the cost of not treating these types of conditions far outweighs the cost of treatment.

Oxford Brookes University PhD student Catherine Lowenhoff has been examining health visitors’ attitudes, beliefs and practice towards support for mothers experiencing mental health issues.

Speaking at the RCN International Research Conference in Oxford on Friday, she said: ‘There are issues about all sorts of things – training came up again and again.’

‘There was a lot of uncertainty about what health visitors should be doing and how they are supported by their organisations.’

Survey response

Ms Lowenhoff, who has a background in health visiting and has worked as a nurse consultant in perinatal and infant mental health, received 1,637 responses from health visitors to a survey.

She said 47% of health visitors felt they had not received sufficient training on how to deliver listening visits – historically offered to mothers with depression.

Respondents also reported wide variations in support from managers or commissioners, as well as:

  • Conflicting work-based demands and priorities.
  • Lack of support from other services.
  • Limited workforce capacity.
  • Lack of experience, confidence and training in mental health.
  • Lack of clarity about the format and expected outcomes of a health visitor led intervention.

Ms Lowenhoff concluded: ‘If we are to improve mental health outcomes for mothers, it is important to understand and address the determinants of practice.

‘Interventions need to be feasible as well as effective and clearly described in order to facilitate shared expectations, consistency, replicability and sustainability.’

Next steps

She said her next steps would be to clarify core components and key clinical activities of a health visitor intervention for mothers with mental health problems, including consideration of the influence on partners and babies.

Last year, NHS England announced £40 million worth of new funding to fund new specialist community mental health services for 30,000 more pregnant and new mothers a year by 2021.


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