Platform providing perinatal mental health support for mothers.   

PuffiN is a digital healthcare platform that provides evidence-based, personalised mental health support for women during the perinatal period and beyond.

  • Platform combines group therapy and peer support groups, to support mothers struggling with their mental health. 
  • A platform which aims to support the NHS in providing mental health and wellbeing support to women in the perinatal period and beyond.
  • The team have gained over 60,000 views online, raising awareness of perinatal mental health and its effects.

Valerie Cai is a trainee doctor and Royal College of Psychiatry’s Perinatal Student Lead, who joined the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme in 2023.

Founded in 2022, Puffin is a women’s mental health platform that delivers personalised support through a cross between group therapy and peer support groups, webinars, and 1-2-1 therapy.

The leading cause of direct death in pregnancy and postpartum is suicide*.

Valerie communicated that within the UK Perinatal mental illness affects up to 1 in 4 new and expectant mums and 1 in 10 dads are affected by postnatal depression. Demands for perinatal mental health services in the UK are 70% higher than pre-pandemic levels, and of those who have been offered treatments, 43% of patients said they weren’t seen in an acceptable time frame*.

As a trainee doctor, Valerie has worked within maternal mental health inpatient units and has seen first-hand the challenges experienced by parents.  

“I realised nearly every patient had a harrowing story about the barriers they had to overcome to get the help they needed. From GPs dismissing symptoms by saying “It’s just hormones” to overwhelmed health visitors not responding to desperate out-of-hours voicemails. Their experiences reminded me of when I unexpectedly found myself pregnant at the age of 21. The loneliness and deep inner questioning of my ability to be a mother has stayed with me, even long after I had my abortion. These experiences fuelled my determination to make sure things will be different for all women in the future.’’

Valerie Cai

Market research demonstrated to Valerie that there is a wait time of up to 1 year for mental health assessments and the financial impact of Perinatal Mental Health has a direct cost of £8.1B/year* and a lost opportunity cost of £16.3B/year to the NHS, which encompasses aspects of avoidable suffering, damage to families, impact on children, and death/ serious injury. This gives each birth in the UK an equivalent cost of £10,000.

Valerie and her co-founder Frances Weston, then spoke to over 170 mothers both online and in-person, including those with lived experience of perinatal mental health conditions, and those without, and found that current solutions were difficult to access, inflexible, and not personalised to each woman. Over 75% of the women they spoke to were interested in their hybrid peer-support and formal mental health (therapy) model. This led Valerie to co-found Puffin, which uses the scalability of technology to deliver personalised mental health care at every stage of a woman’s life, starting with the perinatal period.

Puffin targets subthreshold, low or medium-risk mothers in need of perinatal mental health support or general well-being support. Women do not need to have a mental health diagnosis and there is no ‘minimum threshold’, on how unwell an individual needs to be to access this support, as the team encourages early intervention, preventing women from progressing to a mental health crisis before seeking help. The team’s aim is for women to use the platform as a gateway to wellness or as a foundation on which they find the strength to seek or continue formal mental health support.

The team provides each member of the platform with a personalised peer support group, targeted educational webinars, and the opportunity to attend additional 1-1 therapy. To ensure that the platform supports the diversity of women in London, the algorithm matches each woman with their most suited support group, exploring their personal preferences, experiences, and background information.

The team aims for their platform to directly addresses the current challenges of poor accessibility, lack of treatment availability, and lack of choice in mental health treatments currently being delivered.

‘Personalised women’s mental health support- personalised to your journey’.

The NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme has provided Valerie with access to a network of over 800 entrepreneurs, support to explore opportunities and funding, and educational sessions to feel more confident navigating the innovation landscape.

‘’The NHS Clinical Entrepreneurship has provided me with an unparalleled network of people that are willing to collaborate, help, and refer me to their own networks with little expectation of return. This is invaluable as developing this type of network often takes years of trial and error. So far, during the NHS CEP, I have applied for various pitching competitions and grants for funding, and although none have been successful thus far, the programme has given me the confidence to continue with this process.

Collaborations with other clinical entrepreneurs, such as Gemma Poole, will help to increase the diversity of our market surveys in the future, so that we ensure the platform we are building is equitable for all women of different ethnic backgrounds.

It’s an amazing programme, and it invests so much into your growth as an entrepreneur.’’

– Valerie Cai

What is your key piece of health and wellbeing advice? 

“The most important piece of advice I would give is to be persistent and resilient. In Chinese, there is an idiom “The water dripping day by day wears the hardest rock away,” which I believe applies greatly to entrepreneurship. It isn’t a concentrated burst of effort or funding that determines the success of your start-up, but rather the unseen, daily work you put in over a long period of time, that determines success.”

– Valerie Cai

Looking to the future

The team are currently approaching the pilot phase, developing the training strategy for perinatal mental health peer support workers to deliver on their vision with a high-quality standard. They are then aiming to initiate their platform prototyping and their group matching algorithm.

The teams ultimate aim is to provide all-encompassing mental health care to support and empower women at every stage in their lives. Creating a safe space to share and reflect on their experiences.

“If you are passionate about revolutionizing perinatal mental health or women’s mental health care with technology, please get in touch with us at or on LinkedIn at Puffin Mental Health”

– The Puffin Team

For more information, please click on the links below.