There are two things that I always do when I visit one of our peer support programmes. Eat too many biscuits and… shed a tear! And last week was no different.
Together with Dorothee Archambault (NCT Head of Partnerships) and Carey Oppenheim (NCT Trustee), I spent a wonderful morning with NCT’s Newham branch last Tuesday at their celebration event for volunteer peer supporters. The celebration brought together Parents in Mind and breastfeeding peer supporters, who have trained with NCT to provide support for new parents with feeding and perinatal mental health.
Newham (East London) was one of three pilot sites selected for the development of the Parents in Mind peer support service, alongside Coventry and Warwickshire (Midlands) and Halton (North West). We secured funding from the Department of Health in 2016 to develop this new service, to provide safe and effective peer support for women with mild to moderate perinatal mental health difficulties.
Alongside the centrally funded Parents in Mind programme, NCT Newham have fundraised locally to train several cohorts of breastfeeding peer supporters, who provide support to mums with feeding on postnatal wards and in drop-ins across the borough.
It is always so inspiring to hear women talk about what motivated them to train to support others. And how transformative the experience has been for them. The stigma around perinatal mental health in particular means that it is sometimes only during the training course itself that women finally feel safe to talk openly about their experiences. This takes such careful facilitation by our peer support trainers, creating a safe space for honesty and reflection, whilst building the knowledge and skills required to support others.
The friendship, solidarity and community spirit amongst volunteers is just wonderful, and provides such a strong foundation for the support they provide. And it’s on hearing the stories of how they have supported women when I inevitably shed a tear. On postnatal wards, in community groups or one-to-one, our volunteers support women through incredibly difficult circumstances, experiences and challenges.
One new Parents in Mind volunteer had said after providing one-to-one support: ‘but I hardly said anything, I’m not sure if I helped’. Feedback from the mum was that this was the first time she felt that anyone had actually listened to her and she valued it so much.
Such a lot of work went into securing the funding and building the key elements of the service during the first year of the project. So it is simply wonderful to sit quietly and observe a room full of amazing women who have brought it all to life. When training and workbooks and safeguarding policies and risk assessment and budgets and evaluation tools simply become scaffolding for the things that really matter.
Listening and understanding.
A way in. A first honest conversation.
Help to access to services.
Not being alone.
The stories bring to life the data that we see as an evaluation team. Women supported by Parents in Mind so far show a statistically significant reduction in depression and anxiety scores. And said that it helped them:
- feel less lonely/isolated (89%);
- feel like they have someone to talk to who understands them (86%);
- access services (87%);
- know where to get help (85%).
As we enter the final year of the pilot period, I feel grateful to have worked with such a brilliant team to develop a robust model of perinatal mental health peer support – with the flexibility to adapt to local context and individual women’s needs. We’re now working hard to secure funding to ensure many more women can access this support in the future.
Huge thanks to Belinda Ngugi (Service Delivery Manager for Parents in Mind in Newham, as well as NCT Newham acting branch coordinator) and Andrea Weyand (NCT peer support trainer) for putting on such a great celebratory event. And to all the NCT peer supporters across the UK, who are doing wonderful things every day that make the world a better place.