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Creating communities that thrive

8th November 2018

A guest blog by Natalie Nuttall, co-founder of perinatal mental health peer support charity, Smile Group which operates in Cheshire East.

Natalie Nuttall, co-founder of perinatal mental health peer support charity, Smile Group

In a brave new world of healthcare, collaboration is not simply a buzzword for the boardroom, but a prerequisite to ensure we meet the needs of a changing society.

Ruth Eglin and I set up Smile Group up in 2011 from humble beginnings out of a children’s centre in Macclesfield. With passion fuelling our quest, we had the kernel of an idea to offer a safe, non-judgemental and welcoming peer-support setting for families going through the lonely and often overwhelming experience of perinatal mental illness.

Seven years on and we have welcomed hundreds of parents through the doors of three weekly drop-in sessions, access to person-centred counselling to bridge the gap of waiting lists and, thanks to support from Comic Relief, the delivery of a 1-1 home visits programme.

It is remarkable to have witnessed fundamental strides in investment into specialist perinatal mental health services in the time since we set Smile up. However, there is still a significant gap in support for mums and dads with mild to moderate symptoms who may not meet thresholds but are still struggling.

For this reason we have worked hard to develop links with midwifery and health visiting teams to establish referral pathways and embrace early intervention. Offering pre-emptive support and having conversations right from the early stages of the ‘1001 Critical Days’ is a powerful way of engaging and educating. It not only ensures families are informed, aware and nurtured, but it also makes huge financial sense in a climate that is characterised by constraint and commercial pressure.

Creating communities that thrive isn’t something we pay lip-service to – it’s our raison-d’être. It’s about the development of organic networks underpinned by consistent values such as kindness and compassion. We have also developed relationships with like-minded charities and ambassadors across the UK via the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership because we recognise that, collectively, we can have a stronger impact.

Challenge brings opportunity, and where some see obstacles others see potential. This brave new world is one that recognises that no single service can operate as a separate entity. Only when we all work together as one cohesive community can we ensure families are supported to truly thrive.

Natalie Nuttall, co-founder of perinatal mental health peer support charity, Smile Group

Smile Group welcomes contact from health visitors – though they only operate in Cheshire East (but that doesn’t stop them forming relationships beyond those geographical boundaries!)

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