A new PATH to perinatal mental health

Becoming a parent can be an exciting but challenging time. These challenges can affect parents’ mental health, leading to illnesses such as postnatal depression which are not always recognised and treated. Perinatal Mental Illnesses (PMI) cost society approximately £74,000 (c. €82,0000) per case, including the impact on both the parent and the child. A newly funded EU project called PATH will enable women, families, healthcare professionals, and employers to prevent, diagnose and successfully manage mild and moderate perinatal mental health issues, leading to happier and healthier families.

By Sophie McGannan

PATH (2019-2022) will design, deliver, and implement new, durable services both online and face-to-face, which will increase recognition and prevention of PMI and support new families’ mental wellbeing. PATH will prepare parents pre-birth for their new role and help them avoid PMI. To help healthcare professionals to identify and address PMI confidently and effectively, path is producing online resources and face-to-face training. Resources will also be developed for employers, helping them to support new parents throughout parental leave and in their return to work.

The first major output of the project, due in May 2020, will be a multi-media campaign to raise awareness of and de-stigmatise PMI and promote prepared parenting. The project’s @2SeasPATH Twitter page has already sparked interest from major international organisations such as Deloitte and Ikea, as well as significant national bodies such as St Thomas’ hospital, London.

By addressing the complex and multifaceted issues of perinatal mental health, the PATH project is a catalyst for raising the awareness and speeding up progress in addressing challenges in perinatal healthcare and services. The PATH partnership involves thirteen partners from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK. Launched at the end of March 2019, PATH has been awarded more than €5 million of European funding via the Interreg 2Seas programme. The energy and the excitement at the launch demonstrated how keen everyone is to collaborate and find solutions for mums and dads alike.

One of the key aspects of the project is the development of an online digital platform to provide tools advancing state-of-the-art professional practice and service provisions for perinatal mental health. The platform consists of a system for professional training and for sharing good practices; a service providing information about local services and online one-to-one support; a social platform to provide a safe and secure digital environment for connecting people, building support networks, reducing isolation and empowering mothers and families. Transformative digital technologies will enable financial sustainability and a wider reach of care and service provisions for families. The project team will explore and investigate the use of the latest technologies such as digital avatars, virtual reality and gaming as assistive technologies for healthcare.

Another vital element to the project is prepared parenting. Whilst family centred care at birth has largely been introduced into hospitals, it is lacking in other stages of the new family’s journey through the medical system. Very little preparation for parenting or support in parenting is included in the regular health care systems. Knowledge and skills however, can prevent a lot of stress and avoid cases of perinatal ill health. PATH will introduce prepared parenting courses for parents-to-be. These courses will be available before pregnancy, informing future parents about practical parenting skills and mental and physical aspects of pregnancy. Being aware of risk factors regarding mental health reduces problems during pregnancy and after birth whilst courses during pregnancy will address physical and lifestyle changes, challenges in relationships and being prepared to become parents. Support continuing after birth will focus on parenting issues, sensitivity and development of the baby, safety and the mental and physical health of parents and the baby.

By providing complementary online and offline support and tools to parents, healthcare professionals, employers and the wider community, PATH will ensure a positive perinatal experience for all leading to happier and healthier families.

Sophie McGannan
Project Manager at Health and Europe Centre

Sophie McGannan  is a Project Manager at the Health and Europe Centre. The centre develops, coordinates and manages European public health and social care projects. It is currently lead partner on 6 2Seas projects. Sophie studied law, economics, and management at the University of Lille and is currently studying part-time for a Masters degree in Public Administration - International Development at the University of York. Sophie is from Maidstone, Kent and have lived in Saint-Omer in northern France for the last 6 years.

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