Maternal Mental Health Scotland Change Agents have won a prestigious anti-stigma award. The Change Agents have been working over the last three years to remove some of the fear many new and expectant mothers have around saying they’re not okay.
The award was announced by Maternal Mental Health Alliance and Mums and Babies in Mind at the first Annual UK Maternal Mental Health Alliance Conference at Imperial College, London last night (13 September ’17).
The Change Agents have grown from a group of three women, to 30, from all across Scotland in the last three years. They have been involved in the revised Ready Steady Baby pack that is given to every mother in Scotland and worked with the Scottish Government to ensure a leaflet on perinatal mental health is included with the new baby boxes.
But their main work has been in removing the stigma around perinatal mental health, work which was initially funded by See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health discrimination.
The Change Agents say that too many mums keep their struggles to themselves as they are worried about being judged, or even that someone might take their baby away.
Elaine Clark, the clinical adviser to the group, said: “We want people to recognise that experiencing changes with your mental health is part of being pregnant. That can vary from feeling slightly anxious, to experiencing a serious mental illness which might require an admission to hospital. “But also we want people to know that problems can be prevented if they are picked up early, we want women who need it be referred to seek help throughout pregnancy.”
Clare Thompson, who has been with the group since it began, said: “I think the self-stigma around perinatal mental illness stops mothers from trying to get help.
“When you are ill you can think, “I do not want this baby”. That is a unique position to be in and you feel really guilty. You don’t want to ask for help because it should be all nice a rosy, but it is not. You feel like you have let everyone down because of what this should feel like. “It can be hard to speak to your family, but everyone’s circumstances are different. My family were really supportive, but I still felt guilty and that is part of your illness.”
To encourage mums to ask for help the Change Agents have created an interactive map which shows where all the help available in Scotland is, including NHS support, peer support from other mothers and third sector organisations.
Calum Irving, See Me director, said: “The Change Agents have done vital work in this area. No one should have to feel ashamed or embarrassed to say they are struggling with their mental health. “They have shown how important this issue is and are having a positive impact of the lives of parents across Scotland.”
Dr Camilla Rosan, programme lead for Families, Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We had nearly 100 nominations from the public, private and charity sectors. We were looking for projects and services with a creative and innovative approach to perinatal mental health and we found some real heroes.”
Jillian Sinclair (left) and Clare Thompson (right) at the awards ceremony.