PARENTS of youngsters with mental health problems, who come together to prop each other up and tap into specialist services, have beaten hundreds of professionals to reach the finals of a national award scheme.

The Rollercoaster parent/carer support group in County Durham has been shortlisted in three categories of the National Positive Practice in Mental Health Awards, which promote good work to shape services.

Founder Wendy Minhinnett hailed the hattrick as a major achievement as most of the 500-plus nominations were for professional NHS-ran initiatives.

The mother-of-one started the group, with support from sister Tracy Bonarius and CAMHS nurse Nicky Harmer, after her discovering firsthand that parents can struggle to cope with a child’s mental ill-health.

She said: “When I set it up two-and-a-half years ago, nobody came to the first three sessions and I wondered if I the only lonely parent who didn’t know what to do.

“But gradually people came and I’m really proud of where we are now, the help the group has provided and the doors it has helped open in County Durham.”

The group holds meetings twice a month in Newton Aycliffe and Chester-le-Street, which are attended by up to 20 parents and a professional who can offer advice and access to frontline services.

It runs two Facebook groups- a ‘like’ page to promote services to its 640 followers and a closed group where 98 parents or carers can have discussions- issues an e-bulletin and offers training.

Ms Minhinnett, who administers the group through community interest company Success (North East), said: “If your child has diabetes and needs injections you’ll be shown exactly what to do and given the skills and confidence to manage, but for mental health that is lacking and sometimes a parent can make things worse when trying their best.

“The wonderful parents, carers and supporters at Rollercoaster are helping each other and I hope these awards put parent support groups on the map and make people think about how much support they need and how that will ultimately help both young people and the professional services.”

The group will find out if it has won in the co-production, innovation in CAMHS/CYPMH, and specialist services categories in October.