Real World Public Mental Health

Foundations of mental health – getting the best start in life with Professor Peter Fonagy, Dr Karen Bateson & Jabeer Butt

April 18, 2021 Stuart King Season 1 Episode 5
Real World Public Mental Health
Foundations of mental health – getting the best start in life with Professor Peter Fonagy, Dr Karen Bateson & Jabeer Butt
Show Notes


Professor Peter Fonagy is the Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL and the National Clinical Adviser on children and young people’s mental health at NHS England. He is the Chief Executive of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, London, which is particularly poignant as he himself found help as a child refugee at the Centre. 

Dr. Karen Bateson is the Head of Clinical Strategy and Development, Parent-Infant Foundation and is a Clinical Child Psychologist who has worked in the NHS for over 20 years in early intervention, Sure Start and NHS CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). Dr Bateson’s work focuses on the importance of the first 1001 days of life from conception, perinatal mental health, and how best to support families, and forms part of the First 1001 Days Campaign.

Jabeer Butt has worked in and with the voluntary sector to promote race equality and address health inequalities for many years. He was awarded an OBE in 2013 for his achievements in health and is currently the Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation. He has gained an international reputation for the use of evidence in developing interventions that help overcome discrimination and disadvantage.

In this episode, the group discuss the importance of early experiences, such as good contact with a responsive adult who is sensitive to needs in order to build trust and secure the best foundations for mental health throughout life. Attachment, predictability and sensitivity are fundamental building blocks determining how we interact in the world. 

Parent influence early on shapes who we are as human beings, even down to nappy changing moments. Peter describes it as ‘the foundations of life’ with 3 principles:

  1. Self esteem – how to develop good self esteem 
  2. Self discipline – controlling behaviour with parents and when they are out in the world 
  3. Social competence – managing relationships in a supportive manner 

If these are not developed, it can impact relationships, empathy and problem solving throughout life. The group discuss process of ‘mentalising’, the impacts of micro-traumas and how people see themselves. 

Turning to what action can be taken, rather than trying to prevent abuse and maltreatment, the group discuss promoting positive childhood experiences through good attachments with positive adults. They talk about joined up thinking so that families can access a continuum of support, universal, targeted, specialist services as well as a workforce development strategy so that all professionals receive training in infant mental health. Taking a whole school approach is another example - changing a community by helping everyone in the school environment see each other as human beings and develop supportive relationships

@ParentInfantfFDN & @KarenJBateson