The perinatal period is the time during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth. Perinatal mental health illnesses (PMIs) are very common, affecting up to one in five women, according to a report (pdf 1.5mb) from the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU).

The same report states that, taken together, perinatal depression, anxiety and psychosis carry a long term cost to society of about £8.1 billion for each one-year cohort of births in the UK. This is equivalent to a cost of just under £10,000 for every single birth in the country.

The cross-border PATH initiative involves thirteen partners from France, Belgium the Netherlands and the UK, including Bournemouth University. Leading BU’s project contribution is Professor Wen Tang, from the Faculty of Science and Technology, an expert in computer science and virtual reality software technologies.

PATH will innovatively design, deliver and implement new and durable services, online and face-to-face, aiming to increase recognition and prevention of PMI and support new families’ mental wellbeing.

Through focus groups involving existing patients, and using recruitment campaigns to involve new families, PATH aims to develop mixed PMI support groups which include families pre and post pregnancy.

The project will also improve the skills of healthcare professionals equipping them to address PMI confidently and effectively. For example, project partner Douai Hospital, France, currently implements a pregnancy interview at four months to flag up any potential mental health worries and signpost patients to support.

Professor Wen Tang says: “10-20% of women suffer from mental illness following birth and up to a year after, of which around 90% of these women do not receive the support they need. The PATH project will deliver a multi-media campaign to raise awareness of and de-stigmatise PMI. It will promote prepared parenting, reaching 600,000 people across the EU project area. Through this project we will produce a suite of online resources and face-to-face training for health professionals in order to increase their confidence to recognise PMI symptoms and provide appropriate care. Alongside this will be resources for employers, helping them to support the return to work of new mums.”

PATH now works to develop a new online international support hub; a course of support sessions for 4000 newly identified families, and a fresh model of holistic family support. This model will advocate greater community support to families, include peer supporter training, and outline a network of intergenerational community support groups to increase recognition and understanding of PMI.

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