February 14, 2018 by Sally Hogg
Building pressure for change
Sally Hogg, NCT Caterham and Oxted Branch Coordinator, shares more on how she put perinatal mental health on the political agenda in Surrey.
Mums’ mental health has long been a passion of mine. Prior to having children, I worked in the charity sector with a focus on mums and babies. Then, when my eldest son, Will, was born in November 2014, I experienced maternity services first-hand. Although I didn’t have a mental illness myself, as a new mother, I noticed that maternity professionals were not talking to me about my mental health: I was not asked the questions I was supposed to be.
My experiences paled into insignificance compared to those of the women I met through my NCT group and activities, who had experienced perinatal mental illness. These women had to fight hard, wait a long time, or travel long distances to get the care they needed. Through my work, I knew all the statistics about gaps in services, but now I could see first-hand the impact they had.
I was spurred into taking action when a local support group for mums with depression was at threat of closure because of low numbers. I knew that there were loads of local mums crying out for this sort of support, and indeed when we promoted the group on Facebook, many mums self-referred to it. Something was clearly going wrong – mums were suffering with their mental health problems and yet were not told about, or could not access, the right help.
Having had some conversations with local professionals, I decided to do some research in order to get more robust statistics to strengthen our call for better access to maternal mental health services. In partnership with my local Maternity Services Liaison Committee, we launched an online survey which was promoted via local social media.
Life as a working mum, branch coordinator and volunteer is a busy one. By the time the survey went online, I was in the early weeks of my second maternity leave – in fact I sent out the link in the morning, and had my second son, Daniel, the same afternoon!
The survey findings came as a shock, even to me. Only 38% of women were asked about their mental health by their GP despite the fact that this should be part of every woman’s six-week check. But the survey also showed that there were lots of hard-working and committed professionals and volunteers in the area who are offering fantastic care to women.
We published the survey results on social media groups, sent letters to local professionals and politicians, and held an event at East Surrey Hospital on Maternal Mental Health Day 2017 with a wonderful group of mums, volunteers and professionals who were all keen to make a difference. Later in the summer I got a call from my local MP, Sam Gyimah’s office, inviting me to meet. I didn’t have any childcare that day, so I ended up meeting him with my children – I distracted my two year old with an iPad and my baby sat under the table, filling his nappy loudly during the meeting!
I was really encouraged by how engaged and passionate Sam was about mums’ and dads’ mental health. He related his own recent experiences of fatherhood, and we discussed what he might do as a local MP to champion this issue. I suggested he used his convening power to bring together local leaders from key organisations together to discuss the gaps identified in our report and what could be done about them. Sam was very keen on this idea, and the staff in his office were very helpful and proactive in moving things forward.
So at the end of last year we organised a ‘roundtable’ event for representatives of voluntary, health and children’s services.
Three local ladies told their moving stories of the impact of perinatal mental illness on them and their babies and partners. There was consensus at the meeting, that more needed to be done locally, and Sam said he would establish a working group on this issue which would meet early in 2018. His commitment to action was very clear and he confirmed it in social media and blogs after the event.
This is an ongoing journey, but our work so far has shown the power of telling women’s’ stories and bringing together people with a shared passion to make a difference. Now I hope we can keep momentum going to make change.
The final take-home message I want to leave you with is that talking to politicians can really make a difference and help to raise the profile of perinatal mental health both locally and nationally. My MP was friendly and easy to talk to. I would encourage other parents out there to go and visit theirs.
You can help to build pressure for change!
This handy Influencing Guide tells you everything you need to know to visit your MP.
Contact the campaigns team at email@example.com if you have any questions at all.
If you haven’t already emailed your MP, it only takes a couple of minutes here.
February 07, 2018 by Emily Tredget
Uncovering the #HiddenHalf of Post-Natal Depression
Emily Tredget, Founder of MummyLinks, writes about attending the #HiddenHalf campaign workshop and shares her video about why the campaign is important to her – have you made yours yet to bring the HiddenHalf out of hiding?
Recently I had the priviledge of being invited to attend the NCT’s #HiddenHalf workshop. The workshop was aimed at helping NCT volunteers and mental health campaigners to understand the #HiddenHalf campaign and kick start it. And it definitely achieved that!
The #HiddenHalf campaign is about campaigning for better funding and guidance at the 6 week check to support mums struggling with their mental health. Why is this needed? Well recently, a study by Dr Louise Howard of King’s College London showed that 1 in 4 mums struggle with their mental health during pregnancy, and we now understand also that 1 in 3 mums struggle postnatally, the most talked about issue being post-natal depression.
Now, if you campaign for maternal mental health like I do, this doesn’t come as a surprise. I have so many mums contacting me each week sharing their story, asking for help, or encouraging me in my work to help fight the stigma and raise awareness. For mums that don’t struggle, this might come as a bit of a shock. And this is because mums often don’t open up about their struggling until either they are better again, or until another mum speaks up and then they feel able to.
Getting mums to speak up – to share their story – and empower other mums to do the same is one of the powerful things about this campaign, and it relies on the mums who have survived postnatal depression to speak out first. I’ve now shared my story on the BBC and in the Huffington Post etc. But we need more mums to speak out too and show that it’s ok not to feel ok.
You can of course speak out in whatever way feels comfortable to you. It might not be on national media! But through your local NCT mums group, in a Facebook group, on Twitter, or over coffee with a friend. Whatever feels ok to you – give it a go!
If you feel comfortable to, as part of the campaign many of us will be uploading 30 second videos of ourselves explaining why we have joined the NCT #HiddenHalf campaign. Here's mine if you need some inspiration:
Show your support for the #HiddenHalf campaign and email your MP today!
Fundamentally, the campaign aims to encourage everyone (not just mums!) to contact their local MP, to let them know that maternal mental health needs to be higher on the agenda and to share their story if relevant and appropriate. NCT has been essential in making huge leaps in maternal health care. From getting dads into labour wards, to breastfeeding with confidence in public, to being able to eat and drink during labour. Things that we (mostly!) take for granted now.
My contact with NCT prior to the workshop was as a mum-to-be on the course, and then on a weaning course as a new mum. I had no idea that they were so instrumental in pushing for great progress and enabling us as mums to experience birth in the way we do today. So, having struggled with mental health pre- and postnatally, I am super excited to be supporting this campaign. If my anxiety had been picked up earlier I may not have struggled with PTSD and PND. And even if I had, I would have been able to identify it sooner myself, and get the relevant help. My hope is that in the future, women won’t need to push for the relevant help - it will be a normal, everyday occurrence.
So, if you’d like to see change in how mental health is picked up and dealt with, particularly in the 6 week check, please:
1. Contact your MP
2. Create a 30 second video of why the campaign is important to you
3. Share online with #HiddenHalf
Mum of one, Emily founded MummyLinks.com - the safe place to meet mums for local playdates - after suffering loneliness and Post Natal Depression. She also works tirelessly to reduce the stigma and raise awareness of maternal mental health and launched the #ShoutieSelfie campaign in May 2017 which was a great success.
If you would like to join the MummyLinks community please ask to join the Facebook group to start meeting mums and to download the free app when it launches soon.
January 17, 2018 by Fiona Doyle
Fiona Doyle on joining the #HiddenHalf wave
NCT Haringey Branch Coordinator, Fiona Doyle, shares more about her experience of visiting her local MP and just how simple it is to start promoting the #HiddenHalf campaign in Parliament.
As a mum who has experienced postnatal depression, the #HiddenHalf campaign is something very close to my heart and resonates deeply with a lot of parents across Haringey and the rest of the UK. If you have a problem with your foot or elbow, you go to the doctor and get it fixed. Post-natal depression needs to be seen the same way. I joined #HiddenHalf because I know how important it is for mums to have a proper six week check and get the help and support they need.
So our NCT branch are really keen to get as much momentum behind the campaign as possible. To make positive changes we really need to get decision-makers on board. It’s so simple to do and has the potential to have a huge impact. I hope that by sharing my recent experience of doing this and some top tips, it will encourage you to get involved too.
Organise a meeting with your local MP
It’s pretty straightforward to do. A quick Google search for my local MP gave me Catherine West’s contact details and MP surgery times. Then on the day I went along with Delphine (also from my NCT branch) and William, her baby boy, to meet with her.
Before you actually meet with your MP you are asked to complete a brief form to give them an overview of what you wish to discuss. One look at our campaign and we were assured by Catherine’s team that it was definitely something she would want to talk to us about, which was very encouraging.
Be confident and remember, MPs are only humans too
When we were shown through to Catherine’s desk, she apologised profusely for keeping us waiting, explaining that the surgery was particularly busy in the run up to Christmas. My first impression of her was that she was warm, friendly and genuinely sorry that we had to wait to see her. So far, so good.
Go prepared. Be concise. And take any promotional materials your MP may want
I had brought along NCT’s summary report of #HiddenHalf (which I gave to her when we left). It outlines the research undertaken and the three key recommendations for change. I went through each one (quickly, as you only get five minutes!) and explained our three aims:
1. to reform the six-week postnatal check so that a maternal check is included
2. to improve guidance to GPs about how to manage the check
3. to invest in GP education around maternal mental health
I did most of the talking as poor baby William – who had been as good as gold throughout the entire wait – had decided at that very moment that he’d had enough and didn’t want to stay quiet any longer. So Delphine bounced him around encouragingly in the background as I spoke to Catherine.
Discuss next steps before leaving the room
Catherine was, I was pleased to find, incredibly receptive to what we were saying. She agreed that the subject of maternal mental health was one that was extremely important and said she would be happy to commit to helping as much as she could. At this point, I asked her what exactly that would look like. (At that point, I realised that I had managed to arrange this visit and was currently sitting in front of her, but didn’t actually know what the next practical steps would be beyond this.)
She explained by describing the ‘wave effect’ – the more people who visit their MPs to discuss #HiddenHalf, the more that could be done to bring it out into the public sphere and make some positive changes. She explained that she would submit parliamentary questions on the matter and would take it from there – and she did! Catherine raised the Hidden Half campaign in Parliament this month, which gained recognition from the Minister for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt.
Promote your visit online
Before we left Catherine asked us if it would be ok to take a photo. We were really happy with this as getting a photo with her had been our goal from the very beginning! Delphine and baby William did the honours and Catherine asked us to Tweet her so that she could help us promote the campaign even more.
Feel proud. You’re part of the positive change.
We left the meeting feeling buoyant; I had no idea what to expect but we were greeted warmly, listened to respectfully and made to feel like the #HiddenHalf campaign is important, valid and urgent enough for the people at the very top to invest their time and resources in.
I’m so pleased that we took the time to go and really feel like we’ve done our bit to push the campaign forward that little bit more.
Be part of the wave effect
You can help us put the #HiddenHalf campaign on the political agenda by visiting your local MP too. Check out our #HiddenHalf Influencing Guide which tells you how, and contact NCT at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want to share more about how you’re helping to get the #HiddenHalf out of hiding!
And if you haven’t emailed your MP yet, it only takes a couple of minutes.
A unique opportunity to change lives…
Our guest blogger is Dr Alain Gregoire, a Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist and Honorary Senior Lecturer. Alain is also founder and Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of over 70 national organisations committed to improving maternal mental health, of which NCT is an active member.
Perinatal mental health problems are some of the most treatable conditions we know of and many are even preventable. Unlike NHS care for similarly serious and life threatening physical conditions, the NHS has been getting away for years with ignoring evidence based guidelines on effective treatment and services. The UK has developed some of the most advanced models of care in the world, but as a result of one of the worst postcode lotteries in the NHS, women in most parts of the country do not have access to such services and have been suffering and dying unnecessarily.
The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) wants all women across the UK to have access to the consistent, high quality care and support for their mental health during pregnancy and in the year after birth that NICE guidelines recommend. We are excited that NCT is so energetically joining forces with us in this endeavour – through campaigning, developing peer support programmes and raising awareness to bring perinatal mental illness “out of hiding”.
It’s a little known fact that depressive illness is the most common major health complication of maternity and that suicide is a leading cause of maternal death.
Even more surprising to many is that 1 in 2 parents have had fears of deliberately harming their baby. So this is a problem that is likely to affect many of us in some way, directly or indirectly.
Anyone who cares about the wellbeing of this generation or the next, or our collective futures must seek change, both in terms of clinical services and public awareness. So much needs to be done to make sure that healthcare professionals understand how to support women and prevent, identify and treat mental health problems at this critical time. For example, women with existing mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, have an especially high risk of experiencing severe mental health problems postnatally. How many are even told this, let alone given the necessary advice and care to prevent this mental health emergency?
And then there is the tricky issue of taking medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which can be a worry for so many women. Far too few get good advice on this and, as a result, few realise that It is often more of a risk to come off medication, as this can result in an episode of illness, which may be harmful to mother and baby.
The current neglect by the NHS is particularly scandalous when we consider the impact maternal mental health can have on the wellbeing of babies and children. What we experience in our first 1,000 days has a profound impact both our physical and mental health well into adulthood.
I’m sure I am preaching to the converted on that front but it is worth highlighting the importance of maternal mental health on attachment in this key developmental period and the importance of this to the child’s ongoing mental health. We are now also uncovering the epigenetic effects on the unborn child that can result from untreated mental illness during pregnancy, and the potential for transgenerational effects.
However, increased risks certainly do not equate to inevitability and these effects are potentially reversible when parents have access to the right care and support.
We have a fantastic opportunity to positively influence the lives of so many – not only of this generation but also many generations to come –by improving the care and support of parents suffering from mental health problems now.
It is vital that society as a whole takes its role seriously. This can’t be just a medical solution – we all need to value and nurture parents and children much more and understand the critical importance of attachment and the first 1,000 days.
So no-one should underestimate the immensely powerful role that NCT’s army of teachers, volunteers and peer supporters play in supporting parents, as well as campaigning to make sure that maternal mental health gets the emphasis and resources it deserves. They are making an enormous difference to parents and children across the UK, both now and for generations to come.
Alain Gregoire gave the keynote speech at NCT’s National Celebration Day on 4 November and the slides from the talk are available here. You can help to build pressure for change by emailing your MP about the #HiddenHalf campaign here.
Lighting the touchpaper
It’s hard to believe that this time last year, Barack Obama was still President, and the #HiddenHalf campaign wasn’t even an idea. A year is a long time in politics… and a long time at NCT.
In November last year, I joined NCT not quite knowing what was in store. I was excited to join this impressive organisation, which had been there for me when I was pregnant and then coming to terms with my role as a new parent. As a campaigner, I was inspired by the potential that an organisation with 60,000 supporters offered, to influence an area crying out for change.
But the task was challenging – how to turn the complex problems around maternal mental illness into a campaign that could offer a clear and meaningful solution? We started by talking to lots of people – midwives, doctors, health visitors, academics and, most importantly, mums and dads with lived experience of mental health problems. Many talked movingly about their experiences and the sense of loneliness, failure and shame. We heard, over and over, how parents often didn’t realise they were unwell, that they just thought that they were failing, sometimes hiding how they felt out of a sense of shame.
Almost everyone we spoke to had experienced emotional problems for some time before getting any help. During this time, they had struggled on alone, their condition deteriorating. All the while, they were having to function as a parent and care for a new baby.
Last winter, we started to get a sense of where NCT could have a role to play in solving this. The problem that parents were describing to us, of not having their mental health problems acknowledged, was one that lots of NCT’s supporters would recognise.
We had also heard from mothers and health professionals that the six-week check wasn’t fit for purpose. We were hearing that all the focus was on the baby and that mums were often ignored or rushed through. NCT’s Mind the Gap report had identified this problem back in 2015 and it seemed that nothing had changed.
To confirm this, we decided to commission some new research. And the results were shocking. Half of the new mothers we surveyed had experienced some sort of emotional or mental health problem during the perinatal period and nearly half of these had not had their problem identified by a health professional at all.
Our research also confirmed that the six-week check was an opportunity being missed.
And so our task became clear and we set out to get postnatal mental illness out of hiding. Our aim would be to improve postnatal check-ups and get maternal mental health problems out into the open. The #HiddenHalf campaign was born.
#HiddenHalf is already making an impact. So far, nearly 6,000 supporters have signed up to the campaign, 600 have emailed their MP, 6 MPs have asked questions in parliament and lots more have written to Ministers.
This is a great start but it is not enough. We now need to harness the immense and inspiring energy of NCT’s movement. We want every one of the nearly 6,000 #HiddenHalf supporters to email their MP and at least 50 MPs to receive a visit. You can find out how you can help with this in our new #HiddenHalf Influencing Guide.
We want to build a movement for change so that every MP and Minister hears about #HiddenHalf. There is so much power in the force that is NCT. The job of our team in Euston is to light the touchpaper – but it’s in the hands of the supporters who power our movement to create the pressure for change.
So, now it’s over to you. Join our campaign and together we can harness NCT’s power in numbers to create real and lasting change.