Army veteran praises Sussex perinatal support services and urges others to ‘have that first conversation’
An army veteran who suffered severe anxiety following the birth of both her children is now helping to train clinicians across Sussex to treat other people in her situation during Maternal Mental Health Awareness month.
Susie King, who was stationed in Bedfordshire when her first child was born seven years ago, is incredibly grateful for the perinatal mental health experience of her health visitor, who recognised her symptoms and referred her for specialist help, which she admits saved her life and facilitated a speedy recovery.
The mum of two has since become a Service User Consultant and Peer Support Worker for a crisis team at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which run simulation training courses in collaboration with University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust.
The simulation training courses use actors and real-life scenarios to train health professionals such as midwives, junior doctors and health visitors, who are involved in the care of women during pregnancy or following delivery. They act out several situations to help spot mental health conditions including obsessive compulsive disorder and severe post-partum psychosis.
Susie, mum of six-year-old Lucy and four-year-old Toby, said: “The perinatal health team did everything they could to facilitate my recovery whilst at home, rather than admitting me to hospital. I can look back on my illness and see that maintaining all the familiarities of home protected my mental state.
“I am passionate about the improvement of outcomes for mothers and their families and relish the chance to be involved. I have so much gratitude and respect for the individuals who were involved in my treatment. I will never forget the hope that my psychiatrist gave me at a time I felt none. It is for clinicians such as these, who do not work in a perinatal team day to day, which the simulation training is so very useful for.”
Dr Jennifer Cooke, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead Sussex and East Surrey Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Covid-19 has greatly impacted on women’s pregnancy journeys and increased the likelihood of women struggling with their mental health during this time. This is due to isolation, loneliness, changes to rules about partners being present at hospital, uncertainty about the future and lack of access to the broad range of health professionals and support groups that are usually available.”
Lieutenant Colonel Alex Saunders QARANC, Head of Resuscitation & Simulation Services at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust (covering the Royal Sussex County and Princess Royal Hospitals), which runs the simulation courses, said: “At the moment we are putting on one course a month, but the demand for these could see us increasing this frequency and expand our services throughout the south-east region.
“A significant amount of work goes into developing realistic simulation for our staff to learn the complexities and dynamic of such conditions. As a simulation service we are proud to work with our expert colleagues to provide this education to improve and deliver quality care.”
Susie added: “Motherhood in the first year is hard and not as sometimes portrayed on social media. To anyone experiencing perinatal mental health issues I would urge them to speak to a family member or friend about it and ask for some help visiting their GP.”
Over the last two years more than 130 people have attended these courses across GP, neonatal and family nursing services.