Idea #3 Providing information

What’s the idea?

  • Partners and other family members may need information at multiple points on the mother’s care pathway. Information giving is not a one-off activity. Families may need time to read, take on board and digest information provided.
  • The way in which information is given is as important as the content. Providing information can be a key step in opening dialogue and involving and supporting partners and other family members.
  • Partners and other family members particularly value the offer of one-to-one discussions with health professionals. This is essential where there has been an emergency inpatient admission, but may also be useful at other points throughout a mother’s care.

“When my wife became unwell, it was like a hammer blow. It all happened so quickly. Her behaviour, speech and suddenly moving around the home was not only upsetting for me, but our three year old whom I tried to shield from seeing mom act so out of character. My blood ran cold when the incident was vividly described a year later by our daughter. I was thrust into the unknown and totally out of my depth. The ambulance left (with my wife) and I was left with our eldest child trying to fathom what just had taken place. The staff from the mental health team left without a word. I thought things couldn’t get any worse but I was wrong.”

A father involved in developing this guide

Why implement it?

Providing information to partners and other family members is a vital step in looking after the whole family. It can:

  • enable them to understand what the mother is experiencing, providing knowledge and reassurance
  • explain how they can get involved in the mother’s care, helping them to support the mother more effectively
  • validate and normalise their own feelings and experiences as well as the mother’s
  • encourage them to recognise and seek support for their own needs, including entitlements they may have as a carer (see Idea #6: Needs as carers)
  • support them in managing the multiple roles and responsibilities they may take on during the time the mother is unwell, including caring for the baby and any other children in the family.

Taking time to talk to partners and other family members and giving them the opportunity to ask questions and receive honest answers, communicates that they are valued by the service. This facilitates collaborative working relationships between families and services.

Actions to consider

Information on the perinatal mental health service

Partners and other family members value having information about the service at the first point of contact.

This may include details about the service and what to expect, the locations where the team operates, what support is available, contact information, opening times and who to contact if there is an urgent need.

Information on perinatal mental health disorders

Partners and other family members value having honest factual information about perinatal mental health and the mother’s mental health disorder. This includes information on the prevalence, signs and symptoms (what the mother is experiencing and what they may notice in the mother), the treatment options available (e.g. psychological therapies or medication options, what these involve, their benefits and potential side-effects), recovery (including potential time-frames), how to prevent relapse or deterioration, how to  spot  the  signs this may be happening, and what to do if they are concerned.

This information may be upsetting so needs to be delivered sensitively, with time for questions to be answered. Alongside this information it is important to instil a sense of hope and to discuss the likelihood of recovery.

Information in a crisis

If there has been a crisis (for example unplanned inpatient admission), partners and other family members are likely to need specific information.

These crisis points are very frightening and confusing for partners and other family members, and it can be hard to process information when emotions are high. They value clear information (such as details on the service and what will happen next), the opportunity to ask questions, and the reassurance that they will have further opportunities to ask questions as they occur.

Services will need to check local trust policies and guidelines for the standards for expected timeframes to contact and involve family members following an inpatient admission.

How the partners and other family members can support the mother

Partners and other family members welcome information about caring for and supporting the mother, including helping her to get enough sleep, and tips on providing emotional support.

Recognising and attending to their own needs

See Idea #4: Partners’ and other family members’ own mental health needs.

How to care for the baby and any other children in the family

See Idea #5: Relationship with the mother.

Information at discharge

Information needs to be provided to the partner and other family members about what this means, what will happen next, and how they can make a re-referral or seek advice if concerned.

Practice tips: box 5

Providing information to family members

Preferences and formats

  • Ask family members about their preferences. Would they like information to be given in writing or a telephone or face-to-face conversation? If they cannot attend appointments in person, would they like a telephone call, video call or text message?
  • Make use of available resources where possible, and develop new resources where there are gaps.
  • When developing written or visual information, co-produce this with a diverse group of partners and families who have used the service. It may include stories or advice from others who have been through similar experiences, offering hope and validation. Families value having images and text that are inclusive and consider their cultural backgrounds and the diversity of families within their local area.

Practice example: Providing information

Specialist Community Perinatal Mental Health Services, Devon Partnership NHS Trust

Mothers using this service commented that their partners did not understand what they were experiencing or what the perinatal service was. In response, the service developed a leaflet specifically for partners that includes information about the service, perinatal mental health, how to support a mother accessing the service, and how partners can identify and care for their own needs.

To meet the needs of older children, the service uses an age-appropriate video which uses children’s voices and stories to help them understand maternal mental health disorders (see resources section for examples).