A midwife in the making volunteering in South Africa
Guest Blog by Jill Davies, student midwife from the UK studying Midwifery (BSc) at the University of Bradford
In January 2015 I was researching perinatal mental health online for my extended literature review when I came across the Perinatal Mental Health Project website. As in many countries, mental health within maternity care in the UK receives little attention. Services within the NHS are restricted by limited funding, and whilst improved in recent years the stigma related to poor mental health in pregnancy still impacts on many women’s decision to disclose their concerns. This had fuelled my interest in the topic and a desire to improve the psychological care and support we offer women as midwives.
The PMHP’s background in research meant that the website provided a valuable resource, not only for my academic work but also in practice. The wide scope of the project, supporting both screening and counselling for women in pregnancy, as well as training for healthcare professionals was very inspiring. With the opportunity to arrange an elective placement at the end of my final year I contacted PMHP counsellor Bronwyn Evans to see if it would be possible to join the PMHP team for this placement and was very happy when they agreed. So in July 2015 I departed for Cape Town to join the team for a 4-week placement excited to find out more about the project and maternity care in South Africa.
My time with the PMHP team presented a wide range of opportunities to develop my knowledge of the issues effecting the mental health of women in South Africa, how healthcare staff can support women, and how their own mental health is important in providing compassionate care. I was able to attend a couple of training sessions held with both hospital healthcare providers and community support workers. Observing the PMHP ‘secret history’ training provided a though-provoking insight into the challenges midwives and nurses face in their own lives and how these can impact on and influence the care they provide to women. It was interesting watching the staff enthusiastically taking on the role of the woman and advocating for her needs, then whilst acting as the ‘Sister’ reflecting on occasions when their own emotions and personal situation had influenced the way they had cared for a woman.
As well as training and clinical services, research is an important program for the PMHP. The team recently conducted research into the factors that affect women who use alcohol and other drugs in pregnancy. I was set the task of interpreting the academic research into non-academic publication and interviewing the PMHP counsellors to identify evidence-based recommendations for health and social care workers. The information has been condensed into an issue brief providing a summary of the research findings and recommendations. From this task I was able to develop my understanding of the research process and writing for publication, as well as developing my own confidence in engaging women who use alcohol and drugs in maternity care.
I would like to thank everyone at the Perinatal Mental Health Project for making my elective placement such a fantastic experience. In a country where an estimated 1 in 3 women experience a common mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression during the perinatal period (compared to 1 in 10 women in the UK!), it was incredibly inspiring to see the hard work and innovation they are using to improve the lives of so many women. I will take their energy and passion for perinatal mental health care back to the UK and share this with colleagues to consider how we can improve care in maternity services.
You can find out more about the PMHP on our website: www.pmhp.za.org
You can read the mentioned Issue Brief on our resource pages here
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