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Time for action on perinatal mental health care in Northern Ireland

Topics: Mental health

Health visitors’ and midwives’ experiences of identifying and responding to the mental health problems of pregnant women and new mothers

During the perinatal period, from pregnancy up to a year after birth, women can be affected by a number of mental health problems. These include: anxiety, depression and postnatal psychotic disorders. If perinatal mental illnesses go untreated they can have long-term implications for the well-being of women, their babies and families.

This report looks at the perspectives of health visitors and midwives in Northern Ireland who provide a universal service to women and families during the perinatal period. It describes their experiences of identifying and responding to women and families affected by perinatal mental illness. The report highlights considerable challenges that are impacting on the primary care being provided to women and families in Northern Ireland.

The study was undertaken by NSPCC Northern Ireland in partnership with the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and the Royal College of Midwives in Northern Ireland.

Authors: Caroline Cunningham and Susan Galloway with Mary Duggan and Shona Hamilton
Published: November 2018

Key finding

Health professionals responding to perinatal mental illness in Northern Ireland experience challenges around underfunding, overwork and growing levels and complexity of demand. Similar challenges are faced across the UK, but in Northern Ireland the situation is worsened by, at the time of writing, a lack of commitment to investment of funds. 


  • A training standard for perinatal mental illness should be introduced in Northern Ireland.
  • Ways of working within midwifery and health visiting services should be reviewed to ensure sufficient face-to-face time and continuity of care.
  • The Public Health Agency should provide clarification on the use of screening tools and review training needs on advanced practice skills around disclosure of perinatal mental health problems.
  • Policy and practice relating to perinatal mental health care should align with work to support the parent-infant relationship and infants’ mental health.
  • Every Health and Social Care Trust (HSCT) in Northern Ireland should have specialist perinatal mental health services and a regional mother and baby unit should be established.


“This report shines a powerful light on the urgent need for action on perinatal mental health in Northern Ireland”

Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair, Maternal Mental Health Alliance UK


Cunningham, C. et al (2018) Time for action on perinatal mental health care in Northern Ireland: a report on the perspectives of health visitors and midwives. NSPCC Northern Ireland: Belfast.