One of the problems with perinatal mental health illness is that people are extremely frightened by what’s to come if they speak out.
In East London, if after reaching out, you are considered a mother that needs more structured help than available through a GP or local services, you may be referred to Dr Rebecca Moore’s Mental Health team at the Mile End Hospital East London Foundation Trust. And for that to happen can feel scary, to have a label, and a place and a thing to go to.
And here’s the good news, MamasMindMatters went to check it out and it’s not scary at all.
“We take referrals from GPs, Midwives, Children’s Social Care and Psychiatrists. We have around 600 referrals per year and we work with around 85% of that number.” Dr Rebecca explains. “Currently I am looking after 170 women!” So no need to feel unusual, or alone.
In the backstreets
And should you get sent to the Perinatal Mental Health unit At The East London Foundation you’ll find it very much like The Toddler and I did when we went to find out what it was like inside.
Firstly it’s tucked away on the backstreets of Mile End. Inside it’s a long long walk to Burdett House, where the service is located, but some kindly staff show me the way and I pass a nice mural, so overall it doesn’t feel cold and clinical.
We arrive and of course the lift is broken. A kindly man helps lifts the buggy up very windy stairs, and I pray, that now his back isn’t broken.
The reception area is warm and welcoming. It still looks like a clinical waiting room, there’s the standard issue NHS dark blue seating, but there are a few homely touches here that make a difference. “We’ve worked really hard on this” Dr Rebecca tells me.
For a start there’s a beautiful well stocked child’s kitchen which The Toddler loves. He immediately busies himself playing with it. I find out later Dr Rebecca sourced it from a friend and had it cabbed across London. “It makes a difference to the mothers if the children are comfortable.” Which is true because even I feel happier that he’s playing merrily, and I haven’t even come for an appointment.
East London has a diverse range of patients; from the very comfortably well off City workers to those just about surviving in Social Housing, with pretty much every strand of society in between. And personally that’s one of the reasons I love the area. In the time I’m waiting there, judging by the patients it’s clear that perinatal illness can affect people from all kinds of backgrounds.
Along with all the familiar ‘breastfeeding welcome here’ signs, there is one placed on a screen, again sourced by a Dr Rebecca and team itself. “We found that many of the Bangladeshi women that come here, felt uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. So we got this in for £40 so they can do it more privately.”
I’m also impressed by the comprehensive notice board and feedback box which enthusiastically has written on it “Please turn to be amazed!” which I love, because it proves humans are running the show.
The consultation room
Inside the consultation room itself there are more toys. There are books for visiting students, and even mums who may want more knowledge about their pregnant bodies. I get shown a pristine copy of ‘Bump It Up’, Professor Greg Whyte’s book with a Foreword from Davina McCall, so it’s clear the reading list is very contemporary.
But the books that Dr Rebecca was particularly keen to show me are the ones which fulfil the criteria of gold standard care, books for children of mothers with perinatal mental health problems. “A lot of them were hard to find here so we had to import in from America.” I’m definitely suitably impressed this time.
The consultation room is very small, but also feels unthreatening because of the toys and books. Even with myself, The Toddler, Dr. Rebecca and a medical student, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. It’s been, I’m relieved to say, a reassuring visit. As I go to leave, I look up and see a bunch of boxes labelled in marker pen with things like ‘Sleeping Bags, White Babygros’. What’s that? I ask Dr. Rebecca.
“A lot of the mums we work with have no recourse to public funds or are existing on very low incomes, so we make up bundles of washed clothes to give to them. I started it myself, and asked friends or ex service users to donate.”
I love the idea of Mamas Supporting Mamas, and this hits all of these things.
“A good perinatal unit will care about you, how you feel, and make you feel comfortable, that means you can relax a little and also be able to understand the nature of your personal conversation with the doctor.“ says Dr. Rebecca. Amen to that.
Other forms of Mama help
Although there’s been recent cutbacks, there are lots of places that can help mothers struggling even if they wouldn’t qualify for the perinatal service.
“Local Children Centres have great groups and Family Support Workers, who see women at home and help with parenting skills, and social networks, things like that.
“There’s the Community Parents Project by Island House, who match with a peer woman locally who offers weekly support for up to two years.
“There’s also access to Psychological therapies or IAPT, Primary Care Psychology COMPASS in Tower Hamlets offer therapy and couple therapy.” .
“And then there’s Breastfeeding support groups/cafes, and lots of local gyms/centres offering mum and baby massage, swimming, yoga, zumba and even the local Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, which offers mindfulness and meditation.”
Hopefully there will be at least some similar resources wherever you are. So if you are a Mama struggling, know that you’re not alone, and that there are lots of resources out there to help.
Now, finally, I know unfortunately access to even basic perinatal care is sadly patchy across the country . But we should know what a top standard one is and why we should be lobbying for it to be everywhere.
To find out more about signs and symptoms of perinatal mental health and what happens in treatment see this.
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