Charities launch new project to boost maternal mental health services and protect mothers and their babies 

New mothers from seldom-heard communities, including young mothers and those from culturally diverse backgrounds, are the focus of a project announced on International Women’s Day.

The project – Amplifying Maternal Voices – aims to improve mothers’ and families’ access to support for their mental health, and is a collaboration between the Mental Health Foundation and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

This support is desperately needed. According to the NHS’s Long-Term Plan in 2019, around one in four women experience mental health problems in pregnancy and during the 24 months after giving birth. The consequences of not accessing high quality perinatal mental health care are estimated to cost the NHS and social care £1.2 bn a year.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2017), the majority of women who reported experiencing mental health problems (55%) were not referred to services or given any advice about organisations to contact for further help. 19% were referred to services and 18% were given information about where to go for further support.

Amplifying Maternal Voices (AMV) will run for at least two years nationwide; It will work towards achieving equal mental health care for all women in perinatal services – services for pregnant women and new mothers who need support.

Jessica Bondzie, AMV Project Manager for the Mental Health Foundation said: “Getting the right support is critically important around the time a woman has a baby, both for her and for the future mental health of her child or children. This programme seeks to increase our support for women and families, especially those women from culturally diverse backgrounds and experiences. Evidence suggests that existing support is less accessible for families in seldom-heard communities, and we need to understand the reasons for this.  That is why we are delighted to be working with the Maternal Mental Health Alliance to grow to understand how to better protect the mental health of many more new mothers and their families.”

Laura Seebohm, Chief Executive at the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said “research shows that women from seldom heard communities are at the greatest risk. Despite this, they are underserved by the current system. “We are so proud to be working with Alliance member the Mental Health Foundation, to listen to and amplify the experiences and needs of these women and families. Together, we want to ensure support can be accessed and delivered equitably. Every woman, regardless of her postcode, race, age or background, deserves high-quality, comprehensive and culturally-sensitive care for her maternal mental health.”

Fatima*, a mother and refugee with experience of maternal mental health problems, said: “I didn’t take medication because I didn’t have the family support and professionals lacked understanding of refugee experience. I would like my shared experience to help with the development of local services for women who do not have any family support.”
The AMV project will work closely with communities that have a diverse range of experiences and backgrounds, to amplify their voices in conversations about how services should be delivered.  It will begin by working closely with local networks across England to identify the most effective ways of influencing how services are provided. The project is funded by the Foundation’s Covid Response Programme, which supports groups whose mental health has been worst hit by the pandemic.

The AMV project will bring together experts and families to create a toolkit that will help local communities to influence service development and improvements that work for them. The latest research and guidance on maternal mental health will be showcased in a conference and learning event.  There will also be targeted communications, awareness campaigns and signposting for new mums.