Health visitors and mental health
Health visitors are registered nurses/midwives who have additional training to be Specialist Community Public Health Nurses. All families in the UK should have access to a health visiting service that works with them from pregnancy to a child reaching the age of five, meaning health visitors are uniquely placed to support the mental health and wellbeing of the whole family. Health visitors lead the respective national healthy child programmes and, as part of these programmes, should assess the mental health and wellbeing of women and their families.
Health visitors offer preventative health promotion, evidence-based interventions and, when needed, timely referral to specialist mental health services. Health visitors are also trained to support family relationships. This may involve the promotion of positive parent-infant relationships and undertaking specialist interventions to support good family mental health and wellbeing.
Health visitors work with community staff nurses, nursery nurses and family support workers to provide the best possible care. Some organisations have a lead/specialist health visitor/s in perinatal and infant mental health (PIMH), who have the relevant qualifications, training and experience to provide leadership and meet high-level educational, clinical and strategic objectives relating to PIMH. This position plays a crucial role within multi-disciplinary pathways to deliver high-quality effective care to women and their families.
Creating PIMH Champions
PIMH Champions are expected to cascade the training to other colleagues in their area. However, we have also found that it equips them as leaders and ambassadors for perinatal and infant mental health in their workplaces. Following the training, Champions have, for example, set up therapeutic groups, created multi-professional pathways and partnerships, and improved referral pathways for women with perinatal mental health problems.
All of iHV’s training programmes are quality assured for multi-agency and/or uni-professional delivery. Furthermore, iHV PIMH programmes are benchmarked against national standards, competency frameworks and policy and are accredited for CPD.
iHV’s PIMH training portfolio includes:
- PIMH Champions training
- Fathers and PMH Champions Training
- Emotional Wellbeing Visits Champions training
- IMH Champions Training
- PMH Champions Training
- PIMH one-day awareness training
As of World Maternal Mental Health Day on 5 May 2021, the iHV has trained 2622 Champions from a broad range of backgrounds, including but not limited to health visiting. They have developed Champions across psychotherapy, psychology, perinatal psychiatry, midwifery, peer supporters, social workers and obstetricians.
These Champions have, in turn, cascaded the training to thousands more health and social care practitioners across the UK, thereby maximising the opportunity for every family to enjoy good family mental health and wellbeing.
In the words of an iHV Champion:
“A Champion is someone who wholeheartedly embraces a cause (PIMH), goes above and beyond to fight, defend and support that cause with passion, energy, enthusiasm and tenacity. Driving forward and forcing organisational changes even when there is resistance (of which I have encountered plenty in my time). At least that’s my experience of being a Champion – at every opportunity I talk about PIMH to everyone I meet, whether they are professional or not. Being an iHV Champion makes you feel that urging the cause is essential.”
Find out more
The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) is a UK charitable and academic body whose core purpose is to improve outcomes for children and families and reduce health inequalities through strengthened health visiting services.
Knowing how important family mental health is and that health visitors are uniquely placed to support it, the iHV has a strong focus on PIMH. They believe that a healthy parent and parent-infant relationship provides a strong foundation for good lifelong mental health, which in turn supports a healthy society.
For members, the iHV’s website has good practice points for health visitors working with mothers and fathers suffering from perinatal mental illness.
Melita Walker, Mental Health Lead, Institute of Health Visiting