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Every health visiting team should have a mental health specialist

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Specialist provision for perinatal mental health Specialist provision for perinatal mental health could lead to earlier diagnosis and better care

All health visiting services in England should have at least one perinatal and infant mental health specialist, according to new guidance from Health Education England (HEE).

Specialist health visitors are trained to care for women with perinatal mental health problems, enabling them to provideinterventions and continuity of care which is particularly important for vulnerable new parents. Over 10% of women will experience mental health problems during pregnancy and after the child’s birth, which means that some 70,000 families could be affected by mental health issues. In addition, a report from the London School of Economics estimated the long-term cost to society of mental health problems in the perinatal period was around £8 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK.

‘Through the health visiting ‘universal’ service, health visitors are well-placed to identify those families requiring additional support, especially where the mother (or indeed father) may be suffering from perinatal mental illness, or where the bond between parent and baby may be compromised,’ said Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting. ‘However, health visitors have many other roles and responsibilities taking their time during this important period of every child’s life and they would benefit from specialist support in this challenging arena.’

HEE’s guidance states that creating specialist health visitor posts in perinatal and infant mental health in every health visiting service contributes to reducing the impact of postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health problems. The specialists are able to provide earlier diagnosis, better intervention and support. In turn, this will create savings on child and adult mental health services, and improved public health.

‘Having worked for many years as a trainer and colleague of health visitors who have become “Specialists in Perinatal and Infant Mental Health”, I have seen at first hand the difference they can make to vulnerable parents and infants and to raising understanding and expertise in the wider health visiting and early years workforce,’ said Sara Rance, a consultant child psychotherapist and author of the guidance. ‘Commissioning at least one specialist post for a health visitor in perinatal and infant mental health within every health visiting service is a crucial step in building the multi-disciplinary teams and pathways we need to deliver proper perinatal mental healthcare in England.’

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