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RCGP launches perinatal mental health support toolkit for GPs

25 July 2016

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The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has launched a “one-stop” hub of resources to support GPs in giving high quality care to patients with perinatal health conditions.

Perinatal mental health, an RCGP clinical priority since 2014, affects up to two in every 10 women during pregnancy and the first year of their baby’s life. But many do not seek medical help and deal with it alone.

In response the RCGP has launched a free perinatal mental health toolkit for family doctors and other healthcare professionals, as a go-to set of resources that could support them to deliver the care their patients need.

The RCGP said GPs are concerned that women could be missing out on the help and support both before and after giving birth, as they are reluctant to discuss issues such as anxiety or postnatal depression for fear of being stigmatised or even having their babies taken away.

The impact of undetected or untreated maternal mental health problems on the child can be significant, particularly if they occur during pregnancy and the first year of the child’s life.

In extreme cases, perinatal mental health issues can lead to maternal suicide and the consequences can be devastating for entire generations of families.

Health professionals may also face additional challenges in seeking help for perinatal mental health problems and there is a specific section of the toolkit to address this need.

There are a variety of resources to offer patients from information leaflets, links to supporting charities and social media peer support groups amongst many others.

One resource is a tool developed by the RCGP designed to make the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on antenatal and postnatal mental health more accessible and focussed for GPs.

It is presented in the form of ten questions to help GPs identify the crucial, but often hidden, signs of perinatal mental health issues in their patients as early as possible to enable them to discuss support and treatment with the woman.

The toolkit also aims to reduce variation in the care of women with perinatal mental health problems, many of whom face a postcode lottery in trying to access specialist referral and follow-up services.

Dr Judy Shakespeare, clinical champion for perinatal mental health at the RCGP, said: “While our attitudes to mental health issues seem to be improving as a society, a terrible stigma still surrounds mothers with mental health problems, not least from the women themselves who think they are being judged as ‘bad’ mothers or are frightened that their child will be taken away if they open up about how they are feeling.”

Dr Carrie Ladd, RCGP clinical fellow for perinatal mental health, and lead on the PMH toolkit, said: “I know from talking to GPs and patients in my practice, and via support groups on social media, that there is a real need for more to be done around perinatal mental health.

“There are lots of resources of varying quality out there, but they are scattered all over the place – this toolkit brings the best altogether, in an easily accessible format.

She added: “We also recognise that GPs are under immense workload pressures at the moment – and the standard ten minute consultation is increasingly inadequate to properly deal with complex issues associated with perinatal mental health.

“We hope this collection of resources will enable GPs and other members of the primary care team to access information quickly and within the consultation so helping them offer the best possible care to their patients at this important time in their lives.”