It has been a year since I joined NCT. Tasked with delivering the Dept of Health’s funded Parents in Mind project, it was a matter of hitting the ground running! Learning about the evolving NCT future plans and the world of peer support has been exciting, busy and sometimes down right frustrating. But the thought of being able to make a difference to women locally, has been one hell of a driving force!
So a year one, what has been achieved? Well, for starters I have been totally and utterly bowled over by the amazing committed folk I get to work with – staff, volunteers, colleagues within and outside of NCT. Everyone I’m connected to and working alongside is passionate about improving the support for women and families affected by perinatal mental illness. I have been humbled by the experiences that have been shared, the willingness to see non-specialist support as a valuable service, and the encouragement for us to test what we are doing and see what we can achieve.
Peer support offers a unique kind of assistance. In Parents in Mind, our fabulous volunteers bring their own lived experience to work with others now affected. This experience cannot be bought, taught or feigned. Its real and powerful and the very heart of what we offer. Our volunteers are completing training, arranging childcare, setting aside time, because it so matters to them to HELP ANOTHER MOTHER WHO FEELS AS THEY ONCE DID. It can’t ever mean quite so much if you haven’t BEEN THERE. This is what they build on in their training and then utilise in their support. It is also what matters to other women –seeing that things can get better. It provides hope.
Then there’s the wonderful local service delivery managers: Sarah, Catherine and Belinda. They recruit, interview, and support volunteers from their initial interest to ongoing service delivery. They go above and beyond to support the volunteers in their journey and possess incredible compassion, patience and enthusiasm for what they do. They also manage all the logistics to ensure the service can be offered locally, in the right places and at the right times – that also work for the volunteers. Krypton Factor type planning! As well as working with the volunteers to keep them safe, supported, and motivated, they receive all the referrals, meet with women wanting to access the service, and develop local relationships with local services, organisations and individuals who are all working to help parents in their journey. Embedding Parents in Mind within local systems has been critical from the outset, describing what we do, how we do it and why it should sit amongst the local toolbox of support for those struggling with their feelings in pregnancy and early parenthood.
NCT itself has been around for six decades! In all that time it has been delivering support in a variety of ways to expectant and new parents. Peer support is not new to NCT – we train around 200 breastfeeding peer supporters a year to work across community and health services, and have developed a model of community peer support for vulnerable and disadvantaged women. But looking at its model, adapting it and building on it to support those with mental health difficulties is part of its onward journey to reach more parents, across all communities at a time that they need it. Luckily our team also includes NCT practitioners, highly skilled through NCT College, and educated in training others and working to see how volunteers can be equipped to then support others. Our super stars in this project are Isabelle, Frances and Andrea and together with other colleagues have helped to shape the training for our volunteers and continue to review and refine it.
I’ve been lucky to have skilled, knowledgeable, and passionate colleagues who are so keen to see perinatal mental health as natural a topic within what we do, as feeding or labour pain relief is. It poses challenges and opportunities to the way we work, train, and support volunteers. It’s pressing us all to think differently and openly. To learn, adapt and push forward.
Together these amazing people who make up the Parents in Mind team are why I remain inspired and enthused to keep striving for change. I keep a little picture near my desk which displays a quote from an academic called Margaret Mead. When the going gets tough her quote reminds me that:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”