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Perinatal mental health

Perinatal mental health problems occur during pregnancy or in the 24 months following the birth of a child. Perinatal mental illness affects up to 27% of new and expectant mums and covers a range of conditions. 


Perinatal mental health problems can be brought on by experiences and factors such as the experience of a traumatic pregnancy and childbirth, history of mental health problems, or lack of support. Perinatal mental health problems can sometimes go under the radar because of feelings of shame, embarrassment and fear of the consequences. 

In 2013/14, 40 per cent of England had no access to specialist community perinatal mental health care. From March 2019, every NHS Integrated Care System area in England had an operational specialist community perinatal mental health service for women experiencing moderate/severe complex mental health issues in the perinatal period. There has been significant progress to increase the provision of evidence-based specialist mental health care for women in the perinatal period, but there is still further work to do. 

In 2019, the NHS Long Term Plan (NHS LTP) renewed the NHS’s commitment to transformation in specialist perinatal mental health services to ensure that all women who can benefit can access care. This includes a commitment to ensure at least 66,000 women with moderate-severe/complex perinatal mental health difficulties will have access to specialist community care from preconception to 24 months.

Health Education England supports this commitment by working to increase the workforce capacity and capability in specialist perinatal mental healthcare and ensuring the wider workforce across the health and care pathways (mental health, primary care and maternity services) has access to the right knowledge and skills in perinatal mental healthcare enabling them to deliver the appropriate care, support and treatment for mum, baby and family members, wherever they are. 


Health Education England commissioned the development of a comprehensive Perinatal Mental Health Framework across ten domains of expertise to outline all the perinatal mental health skills, knowledge and abilities for healthcare workers to have. 

An independent evaluation of the Perinatal Mental Health Competency Framework highlighted recommendations to improve and promote increasing its value as a workforce planning and development tool. HEE has reviewed these recommendations and will be conducting the Framework for a relaunch in 2022.

Note: You can log in or preview the Framework as a guest if you don’t have an elearning for healthcare account. 

Health Education England brings together perinatal mental health professionals into a community of practice with a specific interest in training and education. This focus helps sense check how the national mental health programme work is having a direct and meaningful impact on services and provides helpful intelligence on workforce development and new educational content. 

This group is virtual and does not have a steering, managerial or governance function. The community of practice aims to allow Health Education England to connect with and draw upon the expertise of professionals who have a range of knowledge and experience in learning and development across perinatal mental health, both clinically and academically, all over England.

Members of the community of practice can expect to:

- participate in horizon-scanning to help identify emerging challenges and opportunities to support mum, baby and family members during in the perinatal period

- suggest innovative opportunities for further learning and development

- provide advice to enhance mental health education and training commissioning processes about perinatal mental health

- provide comment on draft versions of documents and review communication materials before wider dissemination

- participate in further stakeholder engagement in the field of perinatal mental health

If you would like to find out more and join, contact mentalhealth@hee.nhs.uk

Health Education England has developed a set of four introductory perinatal mental health elearning sessions on the elearning for healthcare platform, each taking around 20-30 minutes to complete.

The sessions assume no specific prior knowledge of perinatal mental healthcare and are designed to be accessed by any health care professional that has contact with a mother or baby from the period before conception until the child is one year of age. Visit the perinatal mental health elearning programme webpage to find out more.

In 2021/22 we commissioned a bespoke new specialist perinatal mental health postgraduate module for mental health nurses and others working in specialist perinatal mental health services, in order to allow them learning which consolidates and deepens their understanding of how they contextualise their practice in a perinatal setting.  

This module was delivered by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to a wider group of around 120 non-medical health and care professionals working in specialist community and inpatient perinatal mental health services, or who have specialist roles within allied services, such as maternity and health visiting. Over the next two years, an additional 240 health and care professionals will complete this module.

The module aims to:

 - enable and support perinatal practitioners in managing complex clinical work • consider assessment, risk, relationships, communication and self-reflection in the context of particular clinical disorders

- encourage participants to integrate current evidence into clinical practice

- develop self-reflection skills

- support leadership development

- help the participants support the learning of others within the course and their work environments

- emphasise the importance of the perspectives of women, infants, partners and families throughout the perinatal pathway

- improve patient safety

- improve the experience of women and families in perinatal mental health services


Visit the perinatal mental health elearning programme webpage to find out more.

EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a specific psychological therapy recommended by NICE for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults.  To support the expansion of mental health delivery in response to the NHS Long Term Plan, NHS England aims to ensure a suitable level of availability of NHS EMDR practitioners across Adult IAPT, adult community mental health and specialist perinatal mental health services in England. HEE has also collaborated with partners to deliver a new and comprehensive NHS EMDR training programme starting in 2023. To find out more about this training, visit the EMDR section on the IAPT webpage.

Occupational therapists

Health Education England has developed a range of elearning modules to help educate and upskill Occupational Therapists caring for people with perinatal mental health issues with the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.  Visit the perinatal mental health elearning programme webpage to find out more.


Health visitors

The Institute of Health Visiting, in partnership with Health Education England, developed two perinatal mental health for health visitors elearning modules with expert peer-reviewed content and videos, interactions and knowledge checks to ensure training health visitors can identify and treat postnatal depression as well as make referrals to specialist counselling.



Health Education England is also working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to provide a range of psychiatry masterclasses online to support the availability of learning.


Clinical and counselling psychologists

Health Education England has worked with the University of Exeter Clinical Education Development and Research Centre (CEDAR) and the University of Liverpool to provide specialist training to equip perinatal specialist clinical and counselling psychologists working in and across perinatal mental health and Maternal Mental Health Services ( MMHS). The course aims to develop:

- specialist perinatal clinical and risk assessment skills and psychological therapy competencies in delivering perinatally adapted, evidence-based, NICE-recommended interventions

- advanced perinatal psychological supervision and leadership skills

- increase understanding of maternal and perinatal factors affecting mental health problems and how mental health problems affect the parent-infant relationship and be aware of the impact of fear of childbirth, fertility, and infant loss

- improve the experience and understand the perspective of women and families in perinatal mental health services ensuring assessments are personalised and formulation driven.

- provide perinatally adapted, culturally sensitive psychological interventions which account for couple and family needs in psychological interventions working within multidisciplinary maternity and perinatal teams

- develop leadership competencies to develop perinatal maternal mental health services and support other health care professionals by way of training and supervision of others delivering psychological assessment and interventions with the overall aim of improving patient safety


Student mental health nurses

We have partnered with Fracture Reality and Orion Immersive to develop an extended reality training concept for pre-registration mental health nurses to gain experience in perinatal mental health.

This project allows mental health nursing students to interact with a digital avatar that is controlled by an instructor. It runs through a series of simulations that can be viewed in either virtual or augmented reality.

The concept behind the Aegros project is to allow learners to practice their communication skills and receive real-time feedback in perinatal mental health situations that they may not routinely encounter safely and without some real-world risks. It is the first time that extended reality technology has been used to train clinicians using a digital avatar and provides a safe training environment that will increase clinical learning opportunities.

We look forward to launching this pilot in 2022 with student mental health nurses so we can use and evaluate this technology and the potential for healthcare training.


Perinatal mental health parent infant practitioner elearning

Health Education England are working with the Parent Infant Foundation to produce a series of eLearning modules to ensure better practice amongst parent infant practitioners and the perinatal mental health workforce to improve their knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental health. The learning is expected to be available by Autumn 2022.


Routine outcome monitoring in specialist perinatal mental health services elearning

Health Education England is working with Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to produce a series of e-learning modules, based on the Implementing Routine Outcome Monitoring in Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services guidance. The learning is expected to be available for specialist mental health service staff by Autumn 2022.


NHS England with the Parent-Infant Foundation and partners has launched the Perinatal and Infant Mental Health online learning programme. This elearning is free to use and has been designed to upskill and increase awareness of perinatal mental health among professionals working in settings supporting women during pregnancy and up to 24 months after birth, including parent-infant relationship and maternity services, primary care, charities, and community groups.  

There are 11 learning modules within the learning programme, and each takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. The modules can be completed in a small group or individually at the learner's own pace. The learning will be beneficial for those who have a good understanding of perinatal mental health and those who have not explored this topic before. 

This nationally consistent online learning will enable services to deliver the quality care, support and treatment for parents, baby and family members. This will also support the NHS Long Term Plan ambition, ensuring at least 66,000 women with perinatal mental health difficulties have access to specialist community care from preconception to 24 months after the birth of their child. 

To find out more you can watch this short film


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