Published Thu, 2011-04-21 17:05; updated 33 weeks ago.
Rachel Gregory was 27 weeks’ pregnant when she plunged into depression.
"It was like the flicking of a switch," she recalls. "All of a sudden I felt fearfulness and anxiety; life seemed very dangerous and frightening."
Although Rachel sought help, she found there wasn't much support available – and, crucially, it didn’t come fast enough.
"My GP was limited with his time and the resources available to him, although he did refer me to a community psychiatric nurse. But not only was no one providing information about what I was going through, I had to wait six to eight weeks between appointments. I remember trying to function and at the same time trying to find out for myself what was wrong with me."
When Rachel's friend Emma suffered postnatal depression, they decided to set up Acacia Family Support in their local area of north Birmingham. In seven years, the service has expanded to meet families' needs: it now provides a range of support, including a weekly befriending service and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for mothers and their families affected by pre or postnatal depression across the city, and employs 17 paid staff and 40 trained volunteers.
"We felt there was a gap in the services available, so once we'd recovered we both felt we needed to do something to raise awareness and provide support for other women in our area," explains Rachel, a mother-of-three.
"We felt that as friends who had supported each other, it wasn't rocket science to support someone: it was about understanding and, literally, holding someone's hand and helping them to talk about what they are going through. Our volunteers are all trained and have shown that they have an emotional intelligence."
The charity's one-to-one befriending service provides women with someone they can talk to who will listen to them.
"There aren't the support networks or extended families to turn to the way there used to be; people lead such busy lives and your women friends may be out at work all day," says Rachel. "So a lot of women suffering from pre or postnatal depression feel isolated and this exacerbates their feelings. Being able to share those feelings can really help."
There is a befriending service for dads, too – either to support men who struggle to cope with fatherhood or to help them support their partners who have depression.
As part of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), an NHS programme to improve services for people suffering from anxiety and depression, Acacia also provides CBT.
"For a lot of women and their families, hand-holding is sufficient help, but there are other people who need psychological intervention," says Rachel. "Until we became involved with IAPT, we would write to people's GPs but it could take up to 12 months for appointments to come through. Now we can provide it ourselves, which is fantastic."
Due for review October 2013