The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Maternal Mental Health Services Prototypes managed by Ways to Wellness are shortlisted in the category Positive Practice in Perinatal and Maternal Mental Health in the National Positive Practice in Mental Health Awards.

The delivery of this maternal mental health initiative was supported by transformational funding from the North East & North Cumbria Integrated Care System (NENC ICS). Working with the North East and North Cumbria Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Network, with support from Voluntary Organisations Network North East (VONNE) and Cumbria CVS this project is helping to build capacity and integrate VCSE sector link work provision and peer support into maternal mental health service pathways.

The project sees four voluntary sector providers each hosting a social prescribing link worker prototype with a place-based test and learn approach to maternal mental health support. The prototypes are hosted in North Cumbria (Together We CiC), Sunderland (Sunderland Counselling Service), Tees Valley/Middlesbrough (Teesside Mind) and Northumberland (Everyturn).

Link worker support makes a difference to Mum’s mental health during the perinatal period. A number of quotes from families supported by the project were shared in our Award application highlighting the value of the support. One mum said:

“I look forward to our appointments every week because it gives me a chance to get everything off my chest and it helps me to look at things differently.”

Another mum told us about the preventative nature of the support offered:

“I think just having somebody by your side saying yes, this must be difficult, makes you realise you’re not just pathetic. I think if I hadn’t addressed these things, everything would have gotten bigger, and it would get harder. Helping me to nip things in the bud has made such an enormous difference. Mental health isn’t always about being rock bottom. It’s about stopping it from getting to that.’’

Three of the provider organisations shared their thoughts on the strength of the model developed. Sam Joughin from Together We CiC in North Cumbria spoke about the value of taking a learning approach and said:

I believe the maternal mental health link work model demonstrates positive practice in a number of ways. Firstly the way the link workers have been supported via the learning community has allowed a transformative approach to reflective practice and learning. Secondly the program provides essential independent support to connect with mums who may be mistrustful of statutory and social care services, providing that vital link between statutory services and mums.

Toby Sweet and Kirsten Moulding from Sunderland Counselling Service highlight the specialised nature of the maternal mental health link work role:

the MMH [Maternal Mental Health] link work project is unique in providing individual personalised care working with the mum about what matters to them most. We work closely with them at their pace to make the necessary changes to situations and events that have had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

We know that many women have felt alone but the support helps to normalise their feelings and lets them know that other women are also going through struggles. Women have said that they don’t want to be a burden on friends or family, or to admit they are struggling and then be judged, so value having someone impartial that they can open up to and talk through what they might be struggling with.

It’s also helpful for the client to have flexibility from the link worker; we are often more accessible than statutory services and have more time to be able to spend with clients, so can have more meaningful conversations and build up high levels of trust and rapport.”

Steffen Laukard from Everyturn said:

"The impact the Maternal Mental Health Support service has had on service users has gone far beyond our expectations. The feedback gained speaks for itself and it has also given our team a sense of pride to be part of this prototype and support the mums in what is important to them. Often, mothers come to us with the belief that they are a 'bad' mum because they feel overwhelmed by societal expectations of a 'good mum'. Our link workers help mums change their perspective and look at all their accomplishments, as well as explain that asking for help is not a failing. Standing in front of a mountain of tasks to solve can feel paralysing; our Link Workers help mums break down their tasks, problem-solve, and regain their autonomy."

The Positive Practice in Mental Health Awards were created to celebrate the work of mental health services across England, Wales and Scotland by the Positive Practice Mental Health Collaborative, a user-led multi agency collaborative of more than 50 organisations including NHS Trusts, Integrated Care Boards, police forces, charities, service user groups and third sector providers.

Congratulations to all of the agencies, organisations and individuals shortlisted for this year’s awards!