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Specialist care for new mums with mental illness and their babies

New Parent and Baby Unit at RPA

August 2020

Specialist care for new mums with mental illness and their babies

Specialist care for new mums with mental illness and their babies

Genevieve Whitlam struggled when her baby Arlo was born.

"I had a raging infection that led to a post-natal psychosis. It all happened pretty quickly within a week," she said.

She had no history of mental illness.

Genevieve was first treated in the public system and was later admitted to a mothers and babies unit at a private hospital, where she was able to bond with her baby.

Now, she's helping to design a new Parent and Baby Unit (PBU) at Royal Prince Alfred hospital. It'll provide specialist care for new mothers with severe mental illness, alongside their baby.

It's the first public purpose-built state-wide PBU in New South Wales.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor, and Sydney Local Health District Chief Executive Dr Teresa Anderson met Genevieve and baby Arlo at the announcement of the RPA site.

"We want these women to receive the specialist mental health care they need, as well as the opportunity to form a bond with their babies in those all-important formative months," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Data shows women are at greater risk of mental illness during pregnancy or following childbirth than at any other time in life, with between 10 and 15 per cent of women developing a mental health problem during pregnancy or postpartum.

The new eight bedroom PBU will enable mothers to remain with their infants during inpatient psychiatric care. They'll also receive caregiving, parent-infant relationship and child development support.

The unit will provide multidisciplinary support to up to 120 women each year.

"Perinatal mental illness can impact your parenting capacity, the relationship with your baby, family dynamics and the ongoing development of your child," Mrs Taylor said.

"We want to ensure that women receive the best possible treatment, with their partners and families involvement, so their children and families can thrive," she said.

Each bedroom at the PBU will be able to accommodate a mother, up to two infants under 12-months of age, a partner or family member.

The PBU will also include space and equipment for antenatal care, a 24-hour respite nursery, a mothercraft room, a play area, a retreat room and communal areas to accommodate multiple families with children.

Women with a lived experience of mental illness, like Genevieve, are contributing to its design to create an environment that's conducive to the physical and mental health wellbeing of women and developing infants.

The PBU will be located adjacent to the Professor Marie Bashir Centre which already provides a range of mental health services on the RPA campus.

"RPA is proud to be the home of the first public PBU in NSW to provide state-wide, acute, inpatient care and treatment for mothers who are experiencing psychiatric illness in the perinatal period, alongside their baby," Dr Anderson said.

"Care in the PBU will meet both the physical and mental health needs of mothers, their infants and families from across NSW," Dr Anderson said.

Mental illnesses experienced during the perinatal period may include antenatal and or postnatal depression, anxiety disorders and postpartum psychosis.

Serious mental illness that cause significant acute or chronic impairment include schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder and schizoaffective disorder.

The PBU is part of the NSW Government's $700 million State-Wide Mental Health Infrastructure Program – the single biggest investment in mental health infrastructure to date.

It is expected PBU will be operational by the end of 2021. A second Unit is also in the initial planning stage at the Westmead Hospital precinct.

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