I'm going to share here three quite specific, personal, examples of why I support the Maternal Mental Health Alliance's "call to A.C.T.". I wish them all the very best in their meeting with ministers Dan Poulter MP and Norman Lamb MP today. This really isn't rocket science, to any of us who have been through a perinatal mental illness.
In brief (you can read the full call to A.C.T. on the campaign website, here):
"To make sure women receive the perinatal mental health care they need, we must ensure the following:
I have already written (here) about the frustrations of tracing the accountability for mental health services and spending. NHS England is such a complex organisation that we need Ministers (such as messrs Hunt, Poulter and Lamb) to take direct responsibility for this service. They can start by intervening to stop any further closure of Mother and Baby Units. And then they can go on to ensure that ALL areas of the UK have access to these essential facilities.
Lucie Holland today made the case for MBUs so eloquently. If her sister Emma had been admitted to one (none existed in her home town) then she may well have recovered from her severe postnatal illness. She was "treated at home" and she never recovered.
I know how lucky The Boy and I are. And that's the reason I speak out so willingly (to Channel 4 news, and now Good Morning Britain) about the need for MBUs. I am speaking for Emma and for all women and children who were failed by the current postcode lottery. If the Prime Minister and his health ministers are not responsible, then who is?
In my (brief) discharge home from the maternity ward (before I was admitted to the MBU), I received daily midwife visits. Unfortunately, this meant I was visited by well-meaning but hopelessly ill-equipped professionals.
I was slowly losing my mind, unable to sleep, anxious to the point of derangement, and all these midwives wanted to know was how The Boy was latching on, and whether my C-section scar was healing well. Needless to say, we lasted less than 48 hours at home before rushing to A&E and admission to the MBU.
A specialist perinatal service might just have helped. If anything, even when we were still in the post-labour ward at the hospital, they might have been able to "overrule" the breastfeeding targets and insist that my mental state (and sleep) was given priority over my fixation on trying to breastfeed my son.
I know that nobody could have prevented my psychosis, but I do know that a specialist perinatal service could have helped my family and I understand what was happening to me. We got to the MBU in the nick of time. The next day I was completely psychotic again. If this had happened while at home, I'm not sure what the outcome could have been.
Even with a specialist perinatal service, I strongly believe that all midwives (and health visitors) must undergo some basic training in mental health, and in particular mental distress. One midwife, when I struggled to explain how tired and anxious I was, suggested that I "take a nice warm bath, with the baby". Er.... What?! Let me explain. I had not slept in 10 days. My brain was shutting down. I was too scared to hold, change, undress or even look at the baby. And she wanted me to get into a bath with him. This was terrible, terrible, terrible, advice. I understand she meant well, but if she had just noticed the crazed look in my exhausted eyes perhaps she would have advised me differently.
I'm not saying that basic mental health training can fix everything. But it's got to be a starting place.
Good luck in your meeting today Maternal Mental Health Alliance. It really is Everyone's Business.