Dr Krysia Lynch, chairwoman of the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services Ireland (AIMS), said the lack of supports tailored towards perinatal mental health means women face being admitted to general acute mental health units, separated from their newborn, if they admit to poor mental health.
“Women are very reluctant to admit to perinatal mental health issues because they are frightened Tusla will get involved and that the baby will be taken away from them,” Dr Lynch said.
Dr Lynch was speaking at yesterday’s deliberations on the new National Maternity Strategy (NMS) 2016-2026 as part of a presentation by AIMS to the the Oireachtas Joint Health Committee.
She said AIMS is urging Health Minister Simon Harris to implement the recommendations of the strategy associated with perinatal mental health which she said “remains particularly under-resourced” despite figures showing antenatal depression and anxiety at rates of 17-18% and postnatal depression at 18-19%.
The strategy recommends that all health care professionals involved in antenatal and postnatal care, be trained to identify women at risk of developing or experiencing emotional or mental health difficulties in the perinatal period. It also recommends improved access to mental health and family supports to ensure appropriate care is provided quickly and additional support for women who have experienced traumatic birth or the loss of a baby. However, vice-chairwoman of AIMS, Breda Kerans, said the first recommendation of the NMS - that an implementation plan be put in place within six months of the strategy being published - has not happened more than a year later.
“Therefore, for the woman and her family on the ground currently using the services the National Maternity Strategy has changed nothing so far,” she said.
The strategy admits that perinatal mental health supports are inadequate. It says there are just three perinatal psychiatrists, all based in Dublin who work part time “with services under significant pressures”.
Speakers at yesterday’s committee also highlighted the lack of perinatal mental health psychologists. Ms Kerans said all maternity units in France have them, but that there are none here.
Fine Gael Dublin Bay South TD, Kate O’Connell, said because there are no mother and baby units for perinatal mental health issues means if women “were on the edge of a breakdown”, separating them from their baby is likely to “send them over the edge”.
AIMS is calling for a perinatal mental health strategy with ring-fenced funding, as in Britain. It is also seeking dedicated mother and baby psychiatric beds - there are none - as it is considered best practice to keep mothers and babies together when an admission to a psychiatric unit becomes necessary.
AIMS is also seeking additional perinatal psychiatrists and psychologists.
The issue of additional supports to encourage breastfeeding was also raised. The point was made that breastfeeding rates among the Polish community in Ireland are up to 95% while they are as low as 40% among Irish women.