Research into attachment between infants and their mothers indicates that it is protective against poor developmental outcomes. Disorganised patterns of attachment occur in 10% of the general population, but this can rise as high as 80% in high risk populations, including women with a serious mental illness (SMI).
The Healthy Mother-Infant Relationship project has been developed by the Clinical Applications Unit based at Gascoyne House, Graylands Hospital. It is a continuation of last year's Healthy Babies for Mothers with Serious Mental Illness resource [Head2Head issue 1], developed by Professor Yvonne Hauck and launched by Professor Fiona Stanley.
Professor Yvonne Hauck said, "The provision of specific support by mental health clinicians to pregnant women with SMI is an important primary prevention strategy. Our goal is to improve obstetric and neonatal outcomes for these women and their children."
The Healthy Mother-Infant Relationship project has also produced a practical resource for community mental health clinicians, focusing on a dynamic model of risk identification and appropriate referral within existing services.
The resource, entitled Healthy Mother-Infant Relationship: assessment of risk in women with serious mental illness, will be officially launched by the Minister for Mental Health, Hon Dr Graham Jacobs MLA on 12 May.
The project has involved clinicians and researchers from across a range of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, mental health nursing, midwifery and paediatrics, as well as community stakeholders and consumers. It also addresses the COAG objective of providing coordinated care to people with SMI and complex needs who are most at risk of falling through the gaps in the system.
Project developer Dr Johana Stefan said, "Our project is mostly a service project, involving mapping of services and developing a framework for case managers of mothers with serious mental illness."
The key elements incorporated in this framework are:
- Recognition of the vital role of the case manager in the assessment of risk and incorporation of the mother-infant relationship in the case management of these clients;
- Early risk assessment for disrupted mother-baby relationship, prioritising of risk and appropriate referral using a dynamic model through consultation with other health care professionals; and
- Creating a professional support network by creating communication pathways and linkages with specialist services, with focus on referral, consultation and education for more effective use of existing resources.
Dr Stefan said, "We have a check list/prompt list for clinicians, to be used for detection of risk of disrupted attachment."
Copies of the resource, will be available at the launch, and will also be available for download at the NMAMHS website.
"I see this project as a first step in raising awareness among mental health clinicians of babies with seriously ill mothers," said Dr Stefan.