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Alumni Voices: 'I'm lucky to work in a professional space that is shining a light on LGBTQI+ experiences'

Meet Emily Rounds (Advanced Community Practitioner in Public Health and Health Visiting, 2013). Working as the Professional Development Officer for the Institute of Health Visiting, she’s also a driving force behind its scheme to support mental health and wellbeing in LGBTQI+ parents.

A white woman with frizzy black hair, wearing a patterned blue and white blouse, smiles.

What are your favourite memories of King’s?

I did a postgraduate diploma, so my course was a mix of lectures and placements with the health visiting team, alongside studying. My highlight was definitely learning from my amazing mentor.

After graduation, you started work as a health visitor. What does that entail?

Every baby in the UK is under the support of a local health visiting team from the antenatal period until the child is five. We support the family to provide every baby with the best possible start in life. We do that by building therapeutic relationships with families, conducting holistic health needs assessments, offering evidence-based advice and support, and connecting the family with local services and resources.

When did your focus on family mental health begin?

Mental health issues were something I increasingly encountered during lockdown. One in four mothers and one in ten fathers experience perinatal mental health issues. Without the right support, this can have devastating impacts on the whole family.

The impact of having a parent with mental illness on a baby is not inevitably negative. But they are at increased risk for a range of poorer outcomes, so early identification and intervention is key. The more I learnt about this, the more passionate I became.

You now work at the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV). What’s your role?

I'm the Professional Development Officer in Perinatal and Infant Mental Health (PIMH). Our team contributes to mental health strategies and government consultations in the UK, and we engage in research projects. A large aspect of my work is the development and delivery of our mental health training programmes.

You support the mental health of LGBTQI+ parents. Can you tell us about this?

The development of our LGBTQI+ Parents and Perinatal Mental Health Champions training programme had just started when I joined the iHV. I'm a proud sister to my non-binary sibling who identifies as queer, so I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work in a professional space that is shining a light on LGBTQI+ experiences.

Statistics highlight that lesbian couples are one of the fastest-growing groups using perinatal services. The number of gay fathers who undertake surrogacy in the UK is increasing, too. Research behind trans and non-binary parents is limited, but it looks like it’s a growing group. The reality of the diverse ways in which families are formed means that support and training is needed to improve the quality of care that we provide

It's also a group that faces a lot of discrimination…

LGBTQI+ people continue to face discrimination in day-to-day life and within healthcare, which can lead to worse physical and mental health. LGBTQI+ people are more likely to have a history of trauma, depression and suicide attempts, and scoping research suggests they may be at an increased risk of experiencing mental illness during the perinatal period.

It’s vital we improve the perinatal experiences of LGBTQI+ people, and the mental health care that they and their families receive during this time.

How does the programme work?

I deliver the training alongside consultant trainer Lucy Warick-Guasp to professionals who work with families in the perinatal period. At the heart of the programme are LGBTQI+ parents, who share their experiences of perinatal mental illness.

A lot of professionals who attend the course have a ‘fear of mucking up’ and are worried about unintentionally causing offence or harm. We foster a compassionate and safe learning environment during each session, and encourage participants to feel comfortable sharing and reflecting on previous experiences – as well as consolidating any new knowledge.

Participants gain an appreciation of the historical and legislative context; heightened awareness of cis heteronormativity; and confidence in the use of appropriate language and proactive inclusion.

What sort of feedback have you had about the course?

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To foster compassion and understanding around different family forms, and the experiences and issues that LGBTQI+ parents may face is extremely rewarding.

We’re often playing catch-up on LGBTQI+ issues because culture and language shifts more quickly than large institutions and the society around them. But positive change is happening in this area.

What’s the next challenge for you?

I’m grateful to be working in an amazing organisation that’s doing so much to support the profession and promote better outcomes for children and families in this and other areas. But I may return to King’s at some point. I’m one module away from completing my Masters. So, watch this space…

Find out more about the LGBTQI+ Parents and Perinatal Mental Health Champions training programme.

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