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  1. ITV Report

Call for specialist mental health help for NI new mums

Lindsey Hall spoke to UTV about her experiences with perinatal mental health. Credit: UTV

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to have no specialist mental health services for struggling new mothers.

Co Down woman Lindsey Hall, who lived with postnatal anxiety after the births of her twins less than a year after having her first child, is calling for funding to be made available for proper support.

Having never had a history of mental illness, she found it increasingly difficult to cope and suffered panic attacks with increasing frequency – sometimes up to five times a week.

Lindsey found it increasingly hard to cope after the births of her twins. Credit: Family photo

“You’re totally drained and you’re upset all the time. You put that down to hormones and you put that down to being a new mum,” Lindsey said.

“The baby blues that people tell you about that are normal aren’t necessarily normal.”

There were days on end that I just felt that all I was doing was crying. I would just sit and be in tears.

– Lindsey Hall

Lindsey was diagnosed with perinatal anxiety, but could only turn to a charity for support after finding out no specialist help was available in Northern Ireland.

And she is not alone in that.

Up to 80% of women and families in Northern Ireland have no access to perinatal mental health care, while millions have been invested in such services in the rest of the UK.

In England, £365m has been spent and there are also 19 specialist mother and baby units where mums who need to be admitted for care do not have to be separated from their child.

Two more such units exist in Scotland, which has spent £50m, and Wales has invested £7.5m.

Northern Ireland has spent nothing on perinatal mental health services and there are no specialist units available.

Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK when it comes to perinatal mental health. Credit: UTV

Doctor Julie Anderson, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told UTV: “One of the really distressing thing can be if a woman becomes extremely ill with her mental health after having a baby and requires admission to a psychiatric unit.

“Here in Northern Ireland, she has to get admitted to general psychiatry ward in one of the different trusts because that’s the only option we have.

“Tragically, that means that she’s separated from her baby for a period of time – and that’s at a time in her life where obviously that bond she’s starting to develop with her new baby is just so, so important.”

In the absence of a devolved executive, the Department of Health’s Permanent Secretary responded to the call for specialist perinatal services.

The Department of Health’s Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly issued a statement. Credit: UTV

In a statement, Richard Pengelly said he recognised that specialised perinatal mental health services are “limited” in Northern Ireland.

He added that the Public Health Agency was working on an updated “options paper” that included considerations for specialist community services and specialist in-patient provisions.

“The Department will consider this very carefully once the work is completed,” Mr Pengelly said.

For Lindsey, a year into recovery, the pieces of her life are finally falling back into place – but her attention remains focused on helping other struggling mums to get the support they need.

For help & support:

Mental Health Awareness Week

We have been looking at the issue of mental health, the stigma still surrounding it, the impact on people, families and communities.

Among those who have spoken to us are those just some of those bereaved by suicide, who were taking part in the Darkness Into Light walks just ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week.

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We have also spoken to the Belfast men who own renowned New York City bar The Dead Rabbit about the personal experiences that led them to throw their support behind a mental health charity in their native Northern Ireland.

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This year, Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 13 to 19 May.

If you’re struggling, speak up, reach out. Help is available and it’s okay not to be okay.