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Health visitors call for infant mental health specialist role

The NHS can reduce maternal depression and improve infant wellbeing by ensuring there are mental health specialist health visitors, the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) has found.

A new survey of 555 members of the Institute found that one-in-four health visitors (26%) have never been given any formal training on infant mental health. Moreover, for those who had, it varied across the country in terms of quality and duration.

This comes after the Mental Health Taskforce report, published earlier this week, called for one million extra people to be provided with support for their mental health problem by 2020/21, and revealed that the cost of mental ill-health is £105 billion annually.

Dr Cheryll Adams (pictured), executive director of iHV said: “The Institute would welcome the creation of specialist health visitor posts in perinatal and infant mental health across the country… It is imperative that the government and commissioners support early, preventative action on infant mental health by well-trained health visitors, in order to lay the foundations for social and emotional wellbeing for all babies. This would significantly reduce NHS spend on mental health services in later childhood and adult life.”

The survey - carried out earlier this month - also found that 95% of health visitors know that infant mental health is about healthy attachment, but just 55% think that parents do not talk to their babies enough.

This is as, post-birth, health visitors “do not have sufficient contact with mothers in order to give adequate ongoing support. Over 50% of health visitors believe that the mothers they visit should be talking to their babies more, as this helps develop the babies sense of security and belonging - an early sign of mental health”.

IHV is now calling on the government to specifically invest more into the first two years of life - urging that this would reduce later expenditure on mental illness and its consequences.