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NHS & Third Sector: Working Together for New Parents

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Kirsty Nicholls of Fathers Network Scotland writes on the mental health difficulties of parents and the role of third sector organisations in addressing them, covering some of the support services available to parents in addition to explaining why collaboration between service providers can be vital.

Having a parent with a mental health problem does not translate by definition into problems with the infant, says Dr Roch Cantwell. What matters is if these problems aren’t picked up quickly and treated appropriately. For children, the greatest risks are if a parent’s mental health difficulties are chronic and left untreated for a long period of time.

It is often third sector organisations rather than the NHS that first come into contact with a parent who needs support. As a charity that encourages dads to speak out with honesty about how they’re feeling, Fathers Network Scotland receives queries about available support services on a weekly, if not daily, basis.  We know that between 5% and 10% of fathers develop mental health problems during the perinatal period and that this can in turn affect the mother and infant. That’s why our recent AGM focused on how we can support new dads’ mental health before, during, and after the birth – and get it right for every child.

Dr Roch Cantwell, Lead Clinician for the Perinatal Mental Health Managed Clinical Network delivered the keynote speech. This group helps health professionals from statutory and non-statutory services, as well as families who have been affected by perinatal mental ill health, to work together to provide the best quality care and fill the gaps in support to prevent mums or dads falling through the net.

Last year Scottish Government announced more than £50 million of investment into perinatal mental health provision in response to recommendations by the network. If a family needs mental health support during the perinatal period, then time is of the essence. Talking therapies are often not immediately available from the NHS. We heard from Dr Cantwell that the Perinatal Mental Health Managed Clinical Network recognises that third sector and peer support is a critical part of the pathway, along with people with lived experience who are setting up self-help groups across Scotland. That is why the network has recommended that third sector organisations should be whole-heartedly supported by the four-year investment. You can hear from Dr Cantwell about some of the network’s other recommendations here.

Identifying and filling gaps in support provision is vital if families are to receive the help they need, when it really matters. Michelle Guthrie is Health Improvement Senior within the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Mental Health Improvement Team. She spoke to our AGM attendees about the importance of collaborative working when it comes to perinatal mental health through her involvement in the Healthy Minds Network. As well as engaging in quarterly meet-ups, 60 partners from the NHS and third sector participate in a virtual network, which takes a lead role in early intervention with new mums and dads who are experiencing mental ill-health. They share resources, training, best practice and research, translating the national agenda into local, meaningful actions. Capacity building involves equipping staff from both the NHS and third sector – who are frequently in contact with new and expectant parents – with the information and resources they need. Fathers Network Scotland’s ‘How Are You Dad?’ training is an example, with the network inviting us to speak with some of their third sector partners about postnatal depression in new dads. Michelle Guthrie explains more about how the network works here.

Collaborative working isn’t without its challenges. Michelle Guthrie discussed the difficulties around coordinating perinatal mental health activity across 6 social care and health partnerships. Organisations are being continually squeezed, so handling demands on their time and competing agendas can be tricky.

However, the resounding message was that if we can work together to plan a more consistent approach to perinatal mental health, it puts us all in a much stronger position in order to get it right for every child. The network is exploring a Greater Glasgow and Clyde perinatal mental health model for all expectant parents across the region and looking at collective funding bids. As a group of organisations working together, they ultimately feel a sense of strength and ability to influence decisions such as resource allocation and highlighting the very best practice for families across Scotland.

Also speaking at our AGM was Ross Duns, Hitachi Engineer, participant of our ‘How Are You Dad?’ training and mental health first aider. He speaks honestly about his experience of being a new dad with postnatal depression. You can hear him speak here.

You can find out more about Fathers Network Scotland at www.fathersnetwork.org.uk or on Facebook (@fathersnetworkscotland), Instagram (@fathersnetworkscotland), Twitter (@fathersnetscot), LinkedIn (@fathersnetworkscotland) and YouTube (@fathersnetscot). 

Kirsty Nicholls is Head of Marketing and Digital Content at Fathers Network Scotland. You can reach her at kirsty@fathersnetworkscotland.org.uk.

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