The mum-of-three knew that, when she had experienced mental illness, peer support was vital to overcoming what she described as “a dark time”.
She said: “After I had my third baby, I experienced mental ill health. As well as receiving professional treatment and support, I attended a perinatal mental health peer support group.
“Meeting with other mums who were experiencing something similar was an important part of my recovery. It helped me to feel less alone in what was a very dark and frightening time.
“The group was somewhere that felt safe. I didn’t have to keep up any pretence about how I was feeling or coping and there was relief in talking to other mums who understood.”
When Claire recovered, and with the help of good friends Ali Wilson and Sheena Munro, peer support walking group Mums Walk Midlothian was born.
The trio - who all have had personal experience of mental health difficulties - were keen to support mums in their community, not just in the perinatal period, but at any stage of motherhood.
Exercise had been another aspect of my recovery, so my idea was to bring together peer support with gentle exercise. It was important that any exercise would be accessible for mums who are unwell as lack of energy and motivation was a major obstacle for me when I was struggling with depression. Walking seemed to be the perfect choice.
It was important that the group was well set up from the outset. Given that we had a mental health focus it was vital that we would be providing a safe space for the women attending. And given that the group facilitators have experience of mental ill health it was also important that they felt safe and supported in their role.
With help from Midlothian Council, Bonnyrigg Rose Football Club, Midlothian Voluntary Action, Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support Edinburgh, and thanks to mental health peer support training from Mindswell, the group began to take shape.
Claire said: “We got in touch with Paths for All and received a lot of support and encouragement from our development officer, Valerie Carson, to get the group up and running. We were trained as Walk Leaders and became members of the Scottish Health Walk Network.
“We set up a Facebook page and used social media to advertise the group and reach local mums. We developed flyers and distributed these around local agencies where mums who were struggling could be reached, such as GP surgeries, local mental health teams, health visiting teams, local supermarkets, libraries and nurseries.”
Since starting up last year, the 30-minute weekly Monday walk - which is followed by tea and coffee in a local café - is well attended. Several of the walkers report it helps them get up and out when a new week can be a particular struggle.
Claire added: “It’s a group where you can be honest about how you are feeling and give and receive support. It’s a group where you can laugh, cry and talk about anything, including your mental health and being a mum. We hope it’s a group where mums who are struggling can feel comfortable and welcome. There’s no expectation or judgement, you can just come as you are with no need to put up any pretence.
“We’ve also been able to signpost women to other local agencies helping them to access mental health and practical support.
“The women who come along are also supporting each other outside of the group. We hoped this is how the group would evolve, to reduce the day-to-day loneliness and isolation of mental ill health.
“Mental illness when you are a mum is a very dark, frightening and lonely place to be. Knowing that our group is helping mums feel less alone in what they are going through and providing them with hope that recovery is possible is what motivates us.”