Specialist charity launches peer support service for north west mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis

Date published: 12 April 2023

A partnership between Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) and national charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) has created a peer support service for women experiencing severe mental illness following the birth of their child.

GMMH will work with APP to deliver this much-needed support within its Andersen Ward Mother and Baby Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital, as well as providing ongoing support in the community. APP will also be running peer support café groups for anyone in the region who has been affected by postpartum psychosis at any time in their life.

As such, the charity is currently recruiting for someone who has experienced postpartum psychosis to join the team as a part time Peer Support Worker, alongside a range of other paid and voluntary lived experience roles.

Postpartum psychosis is a debilitating postnatal mental illness that can occur out of the blue. New mums with postpartum psychosis may develop high or low mood, or fluctuate between them, alongside delusions, hallucinations or severe confusion.

Many of these mothers have had no previous mental health diagnosis prior to onset - although women with bipolar disorder are at higher risk. It affects around 1,400 women and their families every year in the UK and is always a medical emergency.

However, it is eminently treatable and most women go on to make a full recovery with the right support.

Hannah Bissett, National Co-ordinator (NHS Contracts & Regional Projects), Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: "As someone who's personally experienced postpartum psychosis I know how lonely and afraid you can feel. Peer support from somebody who has been where you are and recovered is a vital piece of the recovery jigsaw, and we now have over 2,800 lived experience users sharing their stories and receiving support from trained volunteers as part of our national peer support forum.

"Having somebody there for you who knows exactly what you're going through and who can inspire hope will bring a sense of relief and reassurance to women in the Manchester area who may find themselves experiencing postpartum psychosis.

"We're delighted to be partnering with the Trust on this project and I'm looking forward to building another wonderful volunteer team and hearing from applicants with lived experience interested in the peer support roles."

The Mother and Baby Unit provides a safe and supportive environment to help women experiencing severe mental illness in pregnancy and following birth, with specialist support available to treat conditions such as postpartum psychosis and severe postnatal depression amongst other postnatal mental illnesses.

The unit also provides baby massage classes, art therapy, women-only social spaces and a walled garden with play area. Visiting times at the unit are also incredibly flexible, to encourage family interaction and support, and, ultimately, faster recovery.

Adam Morris, Service Manager at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust said: "Peer support has such an important part to play on the recovery journey from postpartum psychosis, and we are delighted to be working with Action on Postpartum Psychosis to expand our offer to our service users and their families at our Mother and Baby Unit.

"The role that peer supporters play cannot be underestimated - they provide valuable emotional and moral support and enable women to see first-hand that they are not alone, and that recovery is very much possible. Alongside our fantastic team, made up of a range of different roles and disciplines, they will ensure our service users receive a comprehensive package of support, in a therapeutic and supportive environment, to meet their individual needs."

Dr Jess Heron, CEO, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, added: "The Andersen Ward Mother and Baby Unit is a warm and welcoming place offering safe and holistic support to women and families with severe postnatal illness.

"The addition of this new peer support service means that women will receive specialist peer support, reducing trauma and providing hope, as they recover. Women (and their partners) often go on to train as volunteers, joining our active community, supporting others, helping with lived experience input into services, supporting health professional training, raising awareness, and encouraging research into the illness.

"While this vital service will specifically benefit women affected by postpartum psychosis and their families across the Manchester region, as a national charity we are continuing in our campaign to see more Mother and Baby Units like the Manchester one open up around the UK, to help save lives, promote recovery and to keep families together."

APP already delivers successful and award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, as well as managing a thriving online national peer support forum.

The charity also provides peer support for partners of women who are experiencing or have experienced postpartum psychosis.

For further information about postpartum psychosis, or to access peer support, visit www.app-network.org.

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