August-September 2017 | Features

Tackling mental health head-on

Tackling mental health head-on

Alison Baum heads the charity Best Beginnings which looks to give children the best start in life. Now, having teamed up with The Royal Foundation as part of their Heads Together campaign, she warns that when it comes to mental health, society is at a tipping point. She tells Dave King why.


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You’ve got to thank the young Royals there is no longer a stiff upper lip when it comes to tackling mental health.

Comments made earlier this year by The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry over the impact of their mother’s death nearly 20 years ago has laid down some very clear markers.

And their Heads Together campaign, which seeks to combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues, is now encouraging more people across the country to speak openly about emotional distress.

A spokesperson for the Heads Together campaign said: “Too often we have seen that people feel afraid to admit they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families, and end lives.”

“People need to feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental well-being, and have the practical tools to support their family and friends.”

One person who is delighted to see The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry spearheading the Heads Together campaign is Alison Baum, Founder of the charity Best Beginnings.

Too often we have seen that people feel afraid to admit they are struggling with their mental health.”

Launched in 2006 after Alison’s two sons were born with serious health problems, Best Beginnings has reached more than two million families across the UK, focusing on the period between conception and a child’s third birthday, where the foundations for a healthy and fulfilling life are laid.

Best Beginnings was invited by The Royal Foundation to become one of eight charity partners in the Heads Together campaign to change the conversation around mental health.

“What The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have is this extraordinary convening power,” enthused Alison. “The Duchess stood up at the launch of Heads Together and said, simply and clearly, that mental health is just as important as physical health.”

“It was so powerful.”

“We are incredibly proud to be part of the campaign and to be working collaboratively to take the country to the tipping point as far as mental health is concerned.”

“We have all got mental health. And most of us will experience emotional challenges or mental illness at some time in our lives. We all, as a society, can make a difference to the people around us.”

“It is about asking honest, open questions of the people we love and the people we work with about how they are feeling, and being welcome to receive whatever the answer may be.”

Alison spoke at the Rotary conference in Manchester last April where she is hoping clubs across the British Isles will support Best Beginnings and the work it is doing.

Most of us will experience emotional challenges or mental illness at some time in our lives. We all, as a society, can make a difference to the people around us.”

This includes developing practical education tools to help parents-to-be and new parents, including an innovative, free multi-award-winning app called Baby Buddy which takes mums and dads on a very personal parenting journey. The app is so popular that it is receiving 1,200 downloads a week, and rising.

Best Beginnings works with parents, Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and NHS Trusts to create a local plan which enables the Baby Buddy app to be used within the health system and communities.

Baby Buddy has been developed to help reduce child health inequalities across the UK.

“If you support the early years, it doesn’t only support health outcomes, you end up with children who are more resilient, have better language development, arrive at school ready to learn and are more likely to leave school with qualifications,” explained Alison.

“Then you can increase social mobility and reduce inequality.”

The charity has also created a series of 70 films called “Out of the Blue” with parents and professionals talking candidly about maternal and infant mental health.

The Duchess of Cambridge spoke at the launch of the films, which can be viewed in the free Baby Buddy app.

Through her presence and words, Her Royal Highness shone a bright light on the importance of Best Beginnings’ work, the early years and maternal and infant mental health.

Rotary’s active involvement in Best Beginnings will be game-changing for the charity.”

Alison said she was delighted that Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland’s Immediate Past President, Eve Conway, had agreed to be one of the charity’s patrons.

She added:  “Rotary’s active involvement in Best Beginnings will be game-changing for the charity.”

“With the help of Rotary we are about to springboard Best Beginnings into our second decade by raising £5 million to reach three more million mothers and fathers, and enable them to give their children the best start in life.

“I invite Rotarians and Rotary clubs across the country to become part of the Best Beginnings family. Together, we can make a difference for future generations.”

To find out more, visit the Best Beginnings and Heads Together websites.

Rotary Magazine