Released on: 09 May 2017

How does a local branch help local mums have good perinatal mental health with the help of peer supporters? Michele Xenophontos, Branch Coordinator in Widnes and Runcorn talks about her experience.

Tell us a bit about your branch and your area.

Being just on the outskirts of Liverpool our area is often overlooked for things including funding. If we were to live in the bigger towns or cities around us the support available in is much more extensive. Our branch was set up 18 months ago so that we didn't have to travel out of town. I personally wanted to find an NCT group and our nearest one was a long journey on three buses away. Our branch is small but intimate and I think every single member has made at least two or three friends for life

What is Parents in Mind?

Parents in Mind is a project focusing on perinatal mental health. Perinatal mental health focuses on those issues when pregnant or just after baby is born. It helps highlight that no matter what your age or background anyone at any time can have mental health problems. Parents in Mind trains peer supporters in our area that have lived experience of perinatal mental illness to go out and help those who are struggling. Offering them a trained listening ear and a friendly face.

Why did you want to get involved?

I suffered with postpartum psychosis after the birth of my first son. I was lucky that it was recognised and I was able to get a place in a mother and baby unit but not everyone is that lucky. Fast forward 12 years to when my second son was born. I was in desperate need of help. I approached my health ;visitor for help who put me on the waiting list for a talking therapy. The waiting list was 56 weeks long so I contacted the mental health services direct. I explained my situation to them and that I needed help, and because I was already known to the mental health service I was seen the same week as an emergency. Not everybody is this lucky, I know, so if I had a service like Parents in Mind I would have had support to get through those tough times.

What are peer supporters?

Peer supporters are a highly-trained listening ear with lived experience. They have important personal life experiences and can offer practical support. Peer supporters have received training in listening skills but are not medically trained. They are able to draw on their own experiences but won't be prescribing medications. They will be there to support parents through the difficult times and help them get whatever help they need if just a friendly ear isn't enough.

How are people going to hear about Parents in Mind?

We as an NCT branch are already talking to mums and dads about Parents in Mind and all the amazing things to come. We are active on social media and in the local press. We have leaflets and posters in local children centres, nurseries, doctors, midwives, and libraries. Health professionals will be able to refer mums and dads to Parents in Mind so not only will it be word of mouth and media coverage, your local doctor, midwife, or health visitor will have all the information to hand too. They can refer or give information on how to self-refer.

We have also been chosen as the Co-op local charity. So our name is out there for all to see. Being the local charity chosen by Co-op means that people locally can choose to support us and help raise extra funds. By clicking on our page on the Co-op website it helps people know that we are there and what we do. Since being chosen as one of the local charities we have had lots of messages asking how to find out more.

What difference do you think Parents in Mind will make to mums?

I personally think it will make a huge difference to mums and dads. Without long waiting lists our peer supporters will be able to see mums and dads who need help much quicker than many other services. As we all know cuts to services are being made all the time which is why Parents in Mind will see a huge change in our area. No longer will parents-to-be and new parents be put to the bottom of the list. We’ll make them a priority. We want mums to enjoy being a mum, dads to enjoy being a dad and be able to bond with their babies. We want to help them understand that these feelings are often normal and there are other people out there that feel just the same. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly ear and a cup of tea and a problem shared really does help

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