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Recognition and response to life-threatening situations among women with perinatal mental illness: A qualitative study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere025872
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


King's Authors


Objective Mental illness has persistently been found to be a leading cause of death during pregnancy and the year after birth (the perinatal period). This study aims to explore barriers to detection, response and escalation of mental health-related life-threatening near miss events among women with perinatal mental illness. Design Qualitative study. Participants Healthcare professionals (HCP) working in psychiatry, maternity and primary care (n=15) across community and hospital maternity and perinatal services within the UK. Methods In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with a range of healthcare professionals working with women during the perinatal period. An iterative process of inductive and deductive thematic analysis, informed by systems theories of healthcare and the Three Delays model, was employed to analyse the data. Results Three overarching themes were identified: recognition of severity, communication of risk and service provision and access to treatment. Differing perspectives of mental illness severity influenced how life-threatening situations among women with perinatal mental illness were described, recognised and communicated between teams. Under-resourced mental health service provision, particularly within emergency and specialist perinatal mental health services, unclear thresholds for escalating care and poor infrastructure for sharing information all contributed to delays in a timely response to crisis situations. Reluctance to prescribe medication or admit women to psychiatric hospital, stigma and missed appointments created further delays. Conclusions Response and escalation of care for life threatening near miss events among women with mental illness is strongly influenced by professional culture and understandings of mental illness embedded within different healthcare disciplines. Focusing on how differences in organisational and professional culture contribute to the recognition of severe mental illness and interdisciplinary communication may help facilitate clearer co-ordination between teams.

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