Research released in 2014 revealed an enormous 80% of areas in Northern Ireland have no specialist perinatal mental health services and specialist mother and baby units do not exist in the whole of Ireland. These holes have vital effects for the well-being of women and their families.
Maternal mental illness is frequent, affecting over 10% of new mothers. A new Confidential Inquiry into Maternal Deaths reports prompts us to remember that it can also be life-threatening, with suicide a leading cause of maternal death.
As well as devastating consequences to the woman, illnesses left untreated can have harmful effects on child development and long-term consequences.
A lot of these issues can be avoided if maternal mental health problems are recognized early and treated effectively, but unfortunately too many women still do not receive the care they require.
Additionally, there is a heavy economic cost of perinatal mental illness to public services and the society.
Research released in 2014 illustrates the long-term consequences to society of perinatal mental illness are over £8 billion for each annual group of births in the UK.
Almost three-quarters of this cost come from the adverse effects of perinatal mental illness on the child.
Scottish, English and Welsh governments are currently actively responding to fill the holes in perinatal mental health services.
In Northern Ireland, there is the necessity and the opportunity to proceed one step further by coming up with a strategy to make sure that women across the entire nation have adequate access to high-quality, safe care.
The extensive scientific proof, as well as guidance from Nice and Sign demonstrates that this will have to include a new inpatient mother and baby unit and specialist perinatal community teams.
The Northern Ireland Executive should address the present lack of provision and set aside dedicated funds.
The negative impacts of perinatal mental health problems – both economic and human – are too serious to ignore.