Lindsay Robinson is the founder of Have you seen that girl?, an award winning movement dedicated to raising awareness of maternal & parental mental health and signposting parents to help, support and community.
In 2016, Lindsay took to the TEDxStormont stage to share her experience of motherhood and perinatal mental health. She has campaigned tirelessly to bring about change for women, recently securing funding for perinatal services across Northern Ireland.
We caught up with Lindsay to find out more about her inspiring journey since the red dot…
Lindsay, how was your TEDxStormont experience?
I was really nervous on the night. Nervous about being in that venue. Nervous about being alongside all those other wonderful people who were going to share something really inspirational. And really nervous because I was going to share some of my personal experiences of mental ill health. I realised I was going to be quite exposed but the night was absolutely, utterly brilliant. There was great fun and camaraderie with everybody who was doing a talk and even though most of us didn’t know each other we became really good friends. I was just so thrilled to have had the opportunity to have done that.
You mentioned in your talk that 80% of Northern Ireland doesn’t have access to specialist perinatal mental health services. Has there been any progress since then?
Yes, in January we got news from the health minister that funding has been made available to make sure that specialist services are available in all of the five health trusts. Very soon we will be able to say that 100% of Northern Ireland has access, which is hugely exciting.
There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes, a lot of meetings, a lot of campaigning. We felt like we were getting closer to the goal but until we had the funding in place, which means that we can employ all of those wonderful staff, it was just a pipe dream.
So when we finally got to that meeting with the health minister in January we were all pinching ourselves, thinking: ‘Is this real?’ I ended up blubbering my way through it just through sheer relief that we were finally here.
Why did it take until then to get that meeting?
We didn’t have a health minister while Stormont wasn’t up and running. We did work behind the scenes with the Department of Health but we needed a minister to sign off the funding and commission the services.
We were hopeful that perhaps in January or February last year we might have moved forward and then Covid came so understandably time and energy went into that. We kept plugging away in the background.
There’s been a real desire by the whole of the executive for the last couple of years – they all signed a consensus statement promising that this funding would come. It’s just through circumstances that it took a little bit longer. But we’re not looking back – we’re looking forward.
As a society we’re finally better about talking about mental health and wellbeing. We’re much more aware of why it’s really important that mums – antenatal and postnatal – get the help that they need and deserve because it impacts her and her parenting but also impacts the little baby and the wider family. We’re beginning to see it as not just a single issue but actually that it’s a whole society issue.
What do you think has led to the shift in society’s conversations about mental health?
People have had the confidence in the last number of years to share their stories and experiences. There’s no doubt that there still can be a stigma that surrounds mental ill health but over the last few years some of that has begun to lessen and others are much more willing to listen. In fact they realise it’s their responsibility to listen.
What else has happened for you since your talk?
When I did that talk I was only about a year into recovery, in those early stages of recovering from that severe period of mental illness. Reuben is now turning eight and whenever I did that he was only three so there has been a lot of life that has gone on. I do still struggle with mental health but I’ve learned how to manage that and cope with it.
The organisation I run Have You Seen That Girl? has gone from strength to strength. We have had lots of wonderful opportunities over the past four years to get involved in all sorts of different campaigns to raise awareness – not just for mums but for everyone – about the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
In the past year I’ve set up a new project alongside an organisation called Left Side Up, which is a faith and mental health project, to ask how churches and faith communities can be supportive places for mental health and wellbeing. We’ve done a lot of research and we’re about to publish that at the end of May, hoping that will help to equip and resource our churches and faith communities to do the best job they can.
How can people help to change the narrative about postnatal depression?
One of the important things is the term we use. We don’t use the term postnatal depression simply because it’s much more than that. Not that there’s anything wrong with postnatal depression but it could be antenatal depression, it could be anxiety, it could be birth trauma, it could be OCD.
To simply talk about postnatal depression doesn’t allow a mum who isn’t experiencing that to identify her signs and symptoms with what she might actually be struggling with. We tend to talk more about maternal mental health, which allows all of those things to come out under that umbrella and then because of that they can get help and support.
What’s your hope for the future?
In order to have a complete service in Northern Ireland we still need a mother-and-baby unit. England, Scotland and Wales all have mother-and-baby units. Again Northern Ireland is very far behind in the access to services. It means mums are going to adult psychiatric wards, which is just not at all suitable, and then they’re separated from their baby. We are continuing to campaign for that and my big hope is that that will come.
I would love us to continue having open conversations about mental health and wellbeing so that we can talk about how we’re feeling emotionally or mentally in the same way we might talk about whether we have a cold or stubbed our toe. It should become a natural part of what it is to be human to talk about our emotional and mental health and wellbeing.