‘Inspiring and full of innovative buzz’ the first Maternal Mental Health Alliance Conference

“Such an inspiring inaugural event full of innovative buzz,” “Learnt so much at MMHA Conference Bring on 2018!” Tweets like this summed up the response to the First Annual UK Maternal Mental Health Alliance Conference on the transgenerational impact of poor maternal mental health.

Everyone who attended, plus the hundreds who followed the day’s events on Twitter, appreciated the chance to hear cutting edge research mixed with stories of lived experience. The conference had a strong following on social media, trending on Twitter during the morning and gathering 4.4 million Twitter impressions for #MMHAconf17.

“This conference is about bringing together those with a clinical interest, those who are active in the field and those in social policy,” said speaker Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College, London, “Sometimes there’s a gap between research and policymakers – so this is chance to increase our communication and knowledge.”

The day began with a keynote address from Professor Mark Hanson, Director of the Institute of Developmental Sciences and British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Science at the University of Southampton, on the developmental origins of mental health and the importance of interventions from pregnancy onwards. Speaking after his presentation, Mark said: “The clear message we get from parents is that they didn’t know the risks [of mental ill health] and they didn’t know what to expect.”

That sense of their mental health crises coming as if they were a ‘bolt from the blue’ was borne out by two brave, funny and inspiring accounts from people with lived experience – Fiona Putnam and Henry Everitt about their experiences of post-partum psychosis and from Ashley Curry on his experiences of being a new dad with OCD.

Susie Orbach and Holli Rubin concluded the day’s lectures with a presentation entitled ‘Two for the Price of One’, which described the role and psychological meaning of the intergenerational transmission of eating problems between mum and baby.

The conference finished with Susie presenting the first ever Perinatal Mental Health Awards to eight worthy winners. These included the Emma Cadywould award for perinatal mental health education, in honour of Emma who died following a battle with postnatal depression. It was particularly moving that Emma’s parents came to the conference to see the award presented in their daughter’s name. There were also awards for peer support, intergenerational service and anti-stigma campaigning.

The feedback after the conference was overwhelmingly positive with many delegates mentioning how much they enjoyed the presentations on everything from mentalisation, to service design, epigenetics as well as so much learning from the stories from experts by experience.

They also appreciated the networking opportunities, posters and stalls which allowed delegates to build connections and partnerships with other specialists in the field.

Dr Camilla Rosan, Programme Lead for Families, Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation, and organising chair of the conference said:
“Today we heard clear testimony from scientists, practitioners and people with lived experience that early intervention can break the cycle of mental ill health. It was inspiring to see so much commitment in driving real change in the current system.”

Overall the conference raised the big questions about intergenerational mental health and delegates fed back that they were really keen to have more space to discuss the topics that came up.

Summing up Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said:
“We now have the scientific evidence that tells us that being as well as possible during pregnancy and postnatally is critically important. The good news is that there are things we can do – it’s an opportunity unique in healthcare, and one which this conference is starting to tackle.”

Presentations from the 1st Annual Maternal Mental Health conference can be found here.

Watch this space for news of next year’s conference.