To mark Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we took the opportunity to speak to Sally Bunkham, Communications and Development Manager at PANDAS Foundation - a UK charity dedicated to supporting families and their networks who may be suffering with perinatal mental illness.
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of the mental health challenges many women, men and families experience during pregnancy, birth and after having a baby. With the ‘power of connection’ as this year’s theme, we spoke to Sally about the crucial ways in which PANDAS connects parents and families with the information, resources and support they need to enable recovery.
This offer of support now includes a text service, launched in January 2022 in partnership with Mental Health Innovations, where anyone affected by perinatal mental illness can access free, confidential help, anytime of the day or night, by texting ‘PANDAS’ to 85258.
Tell us more about PANDAS Foundation
PANDAS Foundation is a UK-wide support service for families suffering with perinatal mental health issues. We have a number of free support services for parents, carers and their networks to access, including a helpline, email support, online and face-to-face peer support groups - and now a text service!
We are there to offer hope, empathy and support to families and our aim is to ensure no parent or carer ever feels alone.
Unfortunately, perinatal mental illness can affect many people. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that 1 in 5 mothers develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year after birth, while a survey by NCT found that more than 1 in 3 fathers were worried about their mental health.
Our services are absolutely vital. Demand has been growing and was exacerbated recently during the pandemic. Thankfully, we have been able to keep up with these rising demands and are continuing to look for new and innovative ways to support families.
What is your role at PANDAS?
My role within the charity is Communications and Development Manager. I’ve been working for PANDAS for just over a year. It’s my job to ensure we are communicating effectively with parents, carers and their networks and that they know about our free services which are available for them to use.
I manage our social media channels and also help to develop relationships and collaborations with organisations, such as Mental Health Innovations, to ensure the constant progression of the charity in order to provide families with the support they need.
I was drawn to working for PANDAS as I have lived experience of perinatal mental health issues myself. I had two little girls in less than a year and suffered with postnatal depression (PND) brought on by exhaustion. I experienced symptoms that I had no idea could be related to PND and realised just how much more work was needed to educate and support parents.
It’s such a pleasure to work on something I’m so passionate about and know that we are making a difference in the lives of those who suffer with their mental health during the often turbulent time of parenting.
Why did you choose to partner with Mental Health Innovations?
I was delighted to secure a partnership with Mental Health Innovations. Our services are really popular and demand for them is growing, so the opportunity to enhance them with the addition of a text service was really attractive, especially as it bridged a gap in service provision during unsociable hours at night.
We know that parents and carers often experience lonely and anxious times at night, so the 24/7 text service is perfect for that as it offers in-the-moment support and care in such an accessible way, when many other services aren’t available.
When our corporate sponsors Huggies UK offered us the chance to fund a service, we knew that this text service would be perfect, and things immediately fell into place. We know from early feedback that parents and carers are really utilising the text service, which is fantastic.
In the first three months, the support service has taken 780 conversations with people texting ‘PANDAS’ for support with their mental health. The majority of conversations relate to anxiety or stress (47%) and depression or sadness (46%), followed by relationship challenges (27%), loneliness (18%) and suicide (5%).
Mums, dads and families have been texting for support every day of the week and at all hours of the day. In fact, half have texted outside the hours of 9am-5pm.
“Thank you for your support. I felt so low and sometimes I feel so lonely. I just needed someone to understand that and make me feel worthy again, which you did.” - Anonymous feedback from female texter using the ‘PANDAS’ keyword
How will you be supporting Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week?
We are delighted to take part in this year’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week on the theme of ‘connection’. This theme exactly matches the values we live and breathe all year round, and especially at this moment in time as we celebrate more opportunities to connect face-to-face, now that our in-person groups are springing back up following their forced closure throughout the lockdowns.
This week, we are shining a light on just how essential our services are. We have recently launched a survey that aims to gain data on NHS waiting times in terms of mental health support, which sadly are getting longer.
It’s absolutely vital that the services PANDAS and Mental Health Innovations provide are recognised as pivotal for supporting parents and families, as well as an ever under-strain NHS.
If you have been affected by perinatal mental illness and need support, text ‘PANDAS’ to 85258 any time of the day or night to start a conversation with a trained volunteer.