The power of grassroots perinatal mental health support

It’s a simple premise, yet easily overlooked.

When we founded Smile we saw a gap in perinatal mental health support at a community level. To be honest, nearly 12 years ago the phrase ‘perinatal’ was relatively unknown and talking openly about emotional wellbeing challenges in early parenthood didn’t seem to be comfortable conversations at baby groups.

Fast forward 11 and a half years and we’re at a busy family meet-up – one of our monthly ‘Saturday Socials’ at Ruby’s Fund in Congleton, which invites mums, dads, partners, babies, toddlers and siblings to come together to chat, drink a hot brew (rare as a parent of little ones), play, get creative with craft, or rest weary, sleep-deprived limbs for a while.

Early in the development of Smile, it became clear to us that perinatal mental health challenges affect the whole family, so it made sense to create welcoming spaces for family units (no matter what their make-up) to come together. These sessions complement our weekly peer support groups, 1-1 talk therapy and home visits, to offer a blend of support as we know there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

The room is alive with chatter and play, and while parents are experiencing their own ups and downs in the often confronting transition to becoming a mum or dad, there is a beautiful warmth and honesty that infuses each interaction.

In discussions it is clear that parents value the opportunity for open conversations about the reality of parenthood. There is a sense of relief of not having to ‘put on a mask’ and the authenticity enables exhales as we have nothing to prove – there’s just a gentle understanding that this can be hard but nobody is alone in their experience.

It seems like such a simple premise – to create trusted spaces in the community for people in a friendly, safe and non-judgemental environment. Yet in today’s fragmented society, punctuated by social feeds that promote idealistic, airbrushed images of family life, we have sometimes lost touch with the vital sense of community that holds families together in a sense of belonging.

And while, of course we welcome investment into clinical services to provide professional support, there is also a fundamental need to support the development of a tightly-woven organic network of grassroots services, in the heart of communities, offering consistent, compassionate support.

The two-hour window of the Saturday Social is drawing to a close. Tiny rogue shoes are reacquainted with their little owners, parents are still tired but there is a warm lilt to their conversations, soothed by sharing tales of minimal sleep and surviving on tepid cups of tea.

We’re all travelling our own road along the bumpy trajectory of early parenthood, but we are restored by this connection as we realise we don’t have to tread it alone.

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