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Local perinatal mental health champion wins regional award

Published Thursday, 30 January 2020

Coventry and Warwickshire perinatal mental health champion, Leanne Howlett has won the 2020 Mental Health Star Award by the West Midlands Combined Authority’s annual Thrive Awards.


Leanne was nominated and shortlisted for the Individual Category for the Coventry, Warwickshire County Council, North Warwickshire, Rugby, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Stratford upon Avon and Redditch area.

Leanne’s the founder of ‘By Your Side’, a service user forum aimed at helping support parents with perinatal mental health (PMH) problems during pregnancy or in the year following the birth of their child. Since recovering from PMH illness, Leanne’s worked tirelessly to challenge the PMH stigma that prevents parents seeking early help and hosts a Stay and Play for mums who were current patients of the PMHT or recently discharged to have a neutral space when received peer support.

Leanne said: “When I experienced postnatal depression following the birth of my son I found it really hard to accept the support I needed because of the stigma and lack of awareness surrounding perinatal mental illness.

“As soon as I was well again I knew I wanted to do something to raise awareness and also to provide support to other parents who are going through what I did. I am so proud of what we have achieved with By Your Side in the last two years.”

Coventry man, Mark Gibbins who won “Health Hero” at the 2019 Health and Wellbeing Awards was also nominated for the award. He set up Coventry Men’s Shed project five years ago, and engages men over the age of 30 who are recovering from issues like alcohol and drug abuse and men who are socially isolated and have mental health issues. Mark has used his lived experience to help other men who are struggling with things like stress, anxiety and a lack of confidence. The strength of Marks work is that he creates a comfortable environment where men can speak freely without being judged.

Mark said: “The journey over the last few years has been a big learning curve for me; it’s had its highs and lows. There have been times when it’s felt like it’s not working and then out of the blue one of the guys will tell you how much they have benefited from the sessions and that will give me the lift to carry on with the work.

“We have put on a lot of different projects over the last five years; we first started off with cooking projects that we ran for the first few years, then an arts and craft project, a model making project, a woodwork project and a photography project.”

The regional award formally recognises those individuals whose selfless efforts have left a lasting impression on the lives of others and who have made a significant contribution to improving health inequalities and mental health across the West Midlands.

“My experience was how hopeless life can feel. I thought it would be the happiest year of my life when my baby was born but it really wasn’t. I would get up and go out to lots of baby classes and put on a smile and pretend everything was okay but inside I was literally falling apart.

“With the extra support in place things did start to look up, it was a slow journey. If I hadn’t had support from the Perinatal Mental Health team that I needed I would never have seen the light.” She said.

You can hear more about Leanne’s Story on post-natal depression on NHS England and NHS Improvement YouTube channel, read more here and find out more about ‘By Your Side’.

You can see more about what projects they’ve been involved in on the Coventry Men’s Shed YouTube channel: “What’s Eating Coventry”, read more about Mark Gibbins and the upcoming 2020 Health and Wellbeing Awards.

Mark’s most recent project ‘Crafty blokes’ is an arts and crafts project that is running for the second time in Coventry called "Crafty Blokes and the Art of Wellbeing.

The ceremony was held last night at the Hawthorns Football Ground, West Bromwich.

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