It takes a village to raise a child


Author: Charlotte Eisenhart, head of member services at NALC and Trustee at PANDAS

This week marks maternal mental health awareness week which aims to get us all talking about mental health problems before, during, and after pregnancy.

In the UK, 1 in 5 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year after birth, and the leading cause of maternal death in the first year of their babies life is suicide. Unfortunately, those statistics are not improving over time. And of course, the mental health of both parents is important and interlinked, in fact between 25-50% of men will develop perinatal mental illness if their partner experiences poor mental health themselves.

So much of what influences maternal mental health is driven by factors outside of the local council, but there is still much that can be done to support those struggling. I imagine most of us have heard the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ but how much time has your town or parish (local) council spent considering the role it can play in the lives of its youngest residents and in supporting their parents or caregivers?

I would encourage you to put perinatal mental health on your council's next agenda. The task doesn’t have to be daunting. You would be amazed how small things can make a big difference to a family with a new baby where the parents or caregivers are struggling with their mental health. Some examples might be:

  • Signposting – could you list local services for families in the parish newsletter, social media or on the council notice board? Just talking about mental health and what support is available can help reduce the stigma and encourage someone to seek help. You could include information about the perinatal mental health charity PANDAS services which include free phone, email, WhatsApp and zoom services. 
  • Parks and playgrounds – getting outside for a walk and fresh air is so important. Does your local council manage any green spaces or playgrounds? Are they easily accessible for those with newborns, for example, step free access, with benches to rest on, with changing facilities nearby?
  • Baby changing facilities – are there baby changing facilities in the community? Are they easy to find? Does your local council run any buildings or public loos where one could be installed? 
  • Funding local groups – if your council offers grant funding has it considered supporting any local groups for new families, for example breastfeeding support services, mum and baby groups or sensory classes. These sorts of groups can be a lifeline for new parents looking for support and to make new friends. If there is a lack of groups in your community then PANDAS are always keen to recruit new volunteer-led groups which includes support and training for new group leaders.
  • Local businesses – could local businesses be encouraged to join a breastfeeding friendly scheme or just put up a sign or sticker saying it is a breastfeeding or family friendly place? This could help families get out of the house and feel welcomed in their local community.
  • Survey – if you aren’t sure what might make the biggest difference locally then consider setting up a survey asking families what they might wish to see.
  • Support your council team – as an employer, your council can lead by example by supporting its staff. PANDAS has produced a useful HR toolkit to help with this.

I hope that list gives a starting point for discussion in your council. Maternal mental health often has a lot of shame and stigma associated with it. In fact, 70% of those experiencing it will hide or underplay maternal mental health difficulties. But when communities come together to tell parents that they are not alone and that we stand with them as their ‘village’ then we can make a difference. And I truly believe local councils are exceptionally well placed to make that difference.

The following blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional or legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Association of Local Councils. Any links to external sources included in this blog post are provided for convenience and do not constitute endorsement or approval of those websites' content, products, services, or policies. Therefore, readers should use discretion and judgment when applying the information to their circumstances. Finally, this blog post may be updated or revised without notice.

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