'You think becoming a mother will be the best time in your life but for me it was the worst.'

That was the heartbreaking reality for a mum who is now on a mission to ensure no woman goes through postnatal and antenatal depression and anxiety alone.

West Dorset PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support), run by Dorset County Hospital student midwife and maternity support worker Charlie Francis-Pape, was set up last August in an effort to support women across the county who suffer from postnatal depression.

To mark its one-year anniversary, a new group has been established in Bridport.

It is estimated that one in four women suffer from postnatal depression, which could equate to more than 500 women who give birth at Dorset County Hospital each year.

Charlie set up the group after she herself suffered from various forms of perinatal mental illness.

“Being depressed or anxious when you are pregnant or have a baby is so debilitating, embarrassing and you feel so alone,” she said. “You think that becoming a mother will be the best time in your life but for me it was the worst.”

Charlie suffered from antenatal and postnatal depression and PTSD following a traumatic labour. She also spent two months in a mother and baby unit when she was severely ill.

“I so desperately wanted to know that I wasn’t the only woman feeling like this. I was scared of being alone with my baby, I felt so guilty that I didn’t love her and felt like I couldn’t be the mother that she deserved,” she said.

The group currently runs each week at DCH’s Children’s Centre on Damers Road, Dorchester, but a monthly session will start in Bridport in September.

“It’s so incredible to see how far some of the women have come,” said Charlie. “One woman started coming when her baby was just a few weeks old. She came with her mother-in-law and didn’t want to pick her baby up and felt she couldn’t look after her.

“She now comes on her own and last week I saw her holding her baby in her arms and beaming with pride. You could see the love on her face. It is incredible. I felt so proud.

“My aim was always to create enough groups so that women county-wide have somewhere to go to support each other and to not feel so alone.

“The aim of the new groups is creative therapy. We will be having a picnic lunch and getting messy with our children. So far we are going to make slime, paint baby hand prints onto bags and sensory play.”