A team of researchers from Newcastle University and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) are working in partnership with the Local Maternity and Neonatal System on a project which aims to inform the design of accessible mental health services for people experiencing disadvantage in the North East and North Cumbria.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be significant moments in a person’s life. Announcing news of a pregnancy or a new baby is usually followed by feelings of excitement and gratitude, smiles from loved ones, and joy at the prospect of becoming a parent.
However, pregnancy and the period up until a year after birth also represents a potentially vulnerable time for a person’s mental health. Many women/birthing people during this time experience some form of mental distress, for example, depression and anxiety. Without proper treatment, this mental distress could have negative long-lasting consequences. Enabling access mental health support during this time is crucial.
Help is available…but why are some people not accessing it?
Several perinatal mental health services are available in the North East and North Cumbria to support new parents struggling with their mental health. Yet, not all those who need support are accessing these services.
For some people, there are geographical, physical or financial barriers that prevent them from being able to get help when they need it – e.g. those on low incomes, with physical disabilities or living in remote areas with limited transport routes.
Other groups such as young mums, migrants, refugees, LGBTQ+ people or sex workers experience stigma or socio-cultural barriers that may prevent them from expressing their mental health needs or seeking help. The COVID-19 pandemic also showed us that some people were at an additional disadvantage of being unable to access services online, due to not having access to a computer, phone or the internet, or a lack of IT literacy.
This means that while some services continued to be accessible online and proved useful for many, some people were ‘digitally excluded’ from the support they needed.
Identifying and reaching under-represented women/birthing people
As part of the NHS’s Long-term Plan, there is a commitment to expand perinatal mental health support services to ensure that all those who can benefit are able to access care. For this commitment to be successful, it is important to identify people who are currently not accessing services, and to seek potential solutions to the difficulties they face in accessing them.
Often, populations that do not frequently access statutory healthcare services are labeled as ‘hard-to-reach’, due to their under-representation in health research. However, this label overlooks the fact that there are other services within the community that they do access, such as schools, local authority services, social services or community and voluntary services. Conducting research with services that these apparently ‘hard to reach’ populations do access could help us identify ways of reaching them.
Improving access for under-represented women/birthing people
A team of researchers from Newcastle University and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) are working in partnership with the Local Maternity and Neonatal System on a project funded by the Local Maternity and Neonate System and Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network, which aims to inform the design of accessible mental health services for people experiencing disadvantage in the North East and North Cumbria.
This project is gathering insights from service providers from various backgrounds including healthcare, voluntary and charity sectors and social enterprises, to understand their views on why these mental health services are not being accessed, what the barriers are, and what they think could be done to improve access to these services.
Parents experiencing disadvantage are also being invited to share their experiences on challenges they have faced in trying to access mental health services and how they think services could be improved to make them more accessible.
It is hoped that the findings from this project will provide valuable and practical lessons that can lead to the development of perinatal mental health services that will serve the needs of all, and so improve their journey to recovery.
The project is funded by the Local Maternity and Neonate System and Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network,
Research Team at Newcastle University:
Professor Judith Rankin, Prof of Maternal and Child Health (firstname.lastname@example.org) and NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria Supporting Children and Families theme lead.
Dr. Josephine Wildman, NIHR ARC NENC Research Fellow (email@example.com)
Dr. Catherine El Zerbi, NIHR ARC NENC Research Fellow (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Lem Ngongalah, Research Associate (email@example.com)
Dr. Malcolm Moffat, Public Health Registrar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Research Project Partners:
Rachel McDonald, Senior Project Manager, Maternal Mental Health Service (email@example.com)
Dr Catherine Parker, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Lead Maternal Mental Health (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Becca Scott, Public Health Prevention Strategic Manager for Maternity (email@example.com)