At least 1 in 10 women are affected with poor mental health because of pregnancy, the birth experience, and/or the transition to parenthood.  Many families affected by mental health difficulties will not receive specialist support, either because their locality doesn’t provide such services, or because the needs of the woman are best suited to the support which can be offered within the community.  For some, the support of others who have experienced similar difficulties will be enough to move them into a more positive place and a feeling of recovery.  This is the kind of support the Parents in Mind project is piloting and testing.

In July 2016, I started in post just as our partners, the Institute of Heath Visiting, were delivering their perinatal mental health training to a group of NCT tutors and practitioners. This was ahead of us writing the training content needed for Parents in Mind, and really started the journey of getting this pilot project from great ideas on paper to reality based delivery.

Everyone involved was filled with excitement and some trepidation as the complexities of trying to set up and deliver safe and effective peer support for women with mental health difficulties started to be realised. Thankfully the passion and commitment of everyone involved is what has driven the first six months of frenetic activity and success.

What is this project about?

The aim of this pilot project is to develop, deliver and evaluate safe, effective and sustainable peer support across three sites. We have good evidence from other NCT peer projects to support us in this, with learnings from the Birth and Beyond Community Support project evaluation and also the national review work published earlier this year by Parents First.

There are also many other projects from which we can learn and build to avoid repetition of mistakes and reinvention. But key to success has to be about support and networks, and already I have seen fantastic and amazing connections developed – and developing – across the project.

Learnings from our first site

Our first site, Coventry and Central Warwickshire, has almost been the pilot site of the pilot project!  Everything has been developed from scratch here and has been led by Sarah Hislam, local service delivery manager, and Isabelle Karimov, NCT trainer in the West Midlands – both of whom you will hear more from in future blogs.

It has been a busy but exciting time, linking with a vast array of local women and professionals to try and understand what exists in the locality by way of support and what are the gaps that Parents in Mind can help to fill. Sarah and I have met commissioners, children’s centre staff, midwives, health visitors, family nurses, other local charities, parents, mental health professionals and many more interested in and keen to see improvements in community based support for women experiencing perinatal mental health difficulties.

Many have offered to provide their enthusiasm and expertise in a local project group to support the development of the service and truly embed it locally to add value.

The training journey

Isabelle has been busy on the preparation of the training content, building on the existing OCN accredited Birth and Beyond module to integrate perinatal mental health and group hosting. The course, 30 hours contact time in total leading to 5 credits with the OCN, includes the key elements of peer support, such as active listening skills, open questions, strength based solution seeking and setting boundaries.  Alongside this, understanding how pregnancy and parenthood can impact on mental health and how mental health can impact on the parenting journey.

The first group of eight volunteers from across Coventry and Warwickshire have been enjoying this training journey and have already formed a close-knit network among themselves, another essential element of peer support. Following 10 weeks of training together, plus their safeguarding training, I suspect there will be more NCT friendships created.

What lies ahead?

Now that training is underway with the first cohort of volunteers, Sarah is starting to work out how and where Parents in Mind will be delivered to maximise the support we can offer to local women, but also use the volunteer time efficiently and effectively. Her local networks will be valuable in this process.

In the meantime, my mind is moving to Sites two and three. Our local service delivery manager in Runcorn and Widnes starts on 9 January and I have been making connections with professionals locally to start the process of understanding the area and how we might provide an element of support to build on their newly funded specialist support currently being developed.

Conversations are underway in Site three to see how we might embed Parents in Mind within existing services from the outset and therefore test out the potential sustainability element of the project.  More on this in future blogs!

Keep up-to-date!

As my first six months in post roll into my first year, I have been delighted to find myself working alongside so many committed, experienced and enthusiastic colleagues both within and outside NCT to start making Parents in Mind a service for local communities.

Upcoming blogs will focus on specific elements, such as recruitment of volunteers, training, embedding within communities, meeting the needs of women and families. We will be sharing what we do as the project progresses and various members of the team will be contributing.

Parents in Mind is a project funded by a Department of Health Innovation Fund grant to develop, deliver, and evaluate safe, effective, and sustainable peer support for women experiencing mental health difficulties in pregnancy and early parenthood.  It is being delivered by the NCT with support from the Institute of Health Visiting.  #parentsinmind

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