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Perinatal women need mental health support now, more than ever

The Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative needs at least 500 signatures on its petition by May 3 

Feelings of loneliness, depression and fear are being felt among many during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even more so for those who already struggle with mental health issues.

One group at most risk for depression and anxiety disorders are postpartum mothers, which is why Jaime Charlebois and Patricia Tomasi created the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative last year. 

Together, along with multiple health-care professionals across the county, they are standing up for maternal mental health and have created a document of research urging the government to recognize the issues prenatal and postpartum women are experiencing and to create a perinatal strategy on the national level.

Bradford naturopath Dr. Danielle Watson is one of the collaborative's national committee members. She is also a mother of a toddler, and is four months pregnant with her second child, Watson knows all too well how vulnerable new mothers can be to mood disorders.

Research from the collaborative shows that about a quarter of new mothers will experience some sort of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD).

“This makes perinatal mood and anxiety disorders one of the most common complications of the perinatal period. We know that the second leading cause of death in the postpartum is death by suicide,” explained Watson. 

That’s why she and other health professionals are doing all they can to help get support for women going through this perinatal period. 

“Now more than ever, we need a national perinatal mental health strategy,” she said, adding, “I know personally the anxieties this global situation brings.” 

She observed that while pregnancy encompasses many routine checkups for physical illness, there are none for mental health. 

“It’s such a patchwork of services," she said, noting there is no direct support systems in place for those suffering pre or postpartum anxiety and depression. 

According the collaborative, more women suffer from PMADs than there are new cases of breast cancer and the combined new cases (all genders) of leukemia, tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, lupus, and epilepsy annually. 

Watson noted many of her current pregnant patients are experiencing the same feelings of stress and anxiety. Research from the collaborative shows that most perinatal women lack support for mood and anxiety disorders and experience feelings of isolation. 

“Pregnant and postpartum mothers across Canada are feeling the effects of both these predisposing factors,” she said. 

Mothers who have experienced pregnancy complications, birth traumas, or who have a history of mood disorders are at most risk of developing postpartum mental health issues. 

The effects of PMAD affect not only the mothers, but their children, spouses, family and friends' emotional and physical well-being. 

Most important to note is that the second leading cause of death from postpartum is suicide and is pleading with the government to develop a strategy to help support women during postpartum during the pandemic. 

World Maternal Mental Health Day is Wednesday, May 6, and the collaborative will be hosting its first ever virtual event, with the theme #NOWmorethanEVER. 

To learn more about the collaborative and their initiative, visit here

There is also a petition for a national perinatal strategy. They collaborative is looking for at least 500 signatures by May 3. The petition can be found here.   

Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is BradfordToday's Community Editor. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats
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