for better mental health

Peer Support in Perinatal Mental Health

Five Principles of Perinatal Peer Support - What does good look like?

What is perinatal mental health?

‘Perinatal’ means the period of time covering pregnancy and roughly a year after giving birth. Around one in five women will experience a perinatal mental health problem. This might be a new mental health problem, or it might be one which a woman has experienced before but which has continued or come back during the perinatal period.

What is peer support?

Peer support is when people use their own experiences to help each other. There are different types of peer support, but they all aim to:

  • bring together people with shared experiences to support each other
  • provide a space where everyone feels accepted and understood
  • treat everyone's experiences as being equally important
  • involve both giving and receiving support.

Perinatal peer support can complement the work of specialist mental health services by offering a more holistic approach which goes beyond mental health. It works flexibly to adapt to the needs of the mum and her family. Its outcomes can be different to those of clinical mental health care, including things like feeling heard, developing a support network and friendships with people you can relate to or dealing better with being unwell (rather than focusing solely on becoming well).

The project

Mind and McPin Foundation have been involved in developing a set of peer support principles which consider the unique needs of mothers and babies, this work was funded by Comic Relief and supported by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

The project was facilitated by mothers with lived experience of perinatal mental health problems, who led co-design events and focus groups to co-design the principles. Throughout 2018, they gathered families, health professionals, and peer support providers to explore together how to make maternal mental health peer support as safe, nurturing, and inclusive as possible. The result was five principles with explanatory notes and prompts for reflection as to how these can be met in different scenarios. During early 2019 the principles were tested by a variety of perinatal mental health services to ensure they where easy to understand and helpful in the development of peer support practise.

The principles were launched for the first time at Peerfest, Mind’s annual celebration of peer support, on 3rd December 2019. The lived experience facilitators presented the principles on the main stage and then held a workshop, involving activities and discussion. The principles will also be presented at other events and workshops during 2020.

The principles

The perinatal peer support principles are designed to give peer supporters and service providers the confidence to create and deliver peer support that meets the needs of women and families affected by mental health problems during pregnancy or the postnatal period. Adherence to them should ensure that peer support during this important time is safe, inclusive, informed, that it benefits everyone involved and remains distinct from - but closely connected and complimentary to - clinical perinatal mental health services.

People (individuals / organisations) who facilitate perinatal peer support can use the self-reflective grid to consider and evidence how the principles apply to their own project / programme of support or as a development tool to support the set up of new perinatal peer support.

The principles are available to download from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance website.

If you would like to keep up to date with the project and be informed of future developments, please email [email protected].

If you have used the principles and have feedback or would like to write a case study to appear on this page please contact us at [email protected]

Mind and McPin would like the thank Laura Wood, Katy Chachou, and Nisba Ahmed (lived experience facilitators) for leading the co-design of the principles, Comic Relief for funding the work, MMHA for supporting the work and most of all people with lived experience and those working in the sector for taking part, without your insights and ideas the principles would not have been possible.

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