BRAUN: Postpartum depression skyrocketing during COVID

Liz Braun 4 minute read January 9, 2022

Women have born the brunt of the pandemic in many ways, and perhaps none more so than new mothers.

The work of child-rearing is tough enough without isolation from the world at large and from supportive friends and family.

Many women experience postpartum depression, or what’s now called perinatal mental illness. Resources for them are just as stretched as every other health resource has been during COVID.

Perinatal distress has many faces: sleeplessness, anxiety, lack of enthusiasm for anything, fear of not bonding with the baby, disinterest in the baby, feelings of isolation, hopelessness, inadequacy, and worse.

Issues can begin in pregnancy and range from mild to severe, from temporary “baby blues” to depression, panic disorder, PTSD, or psychosis.

There’s a stigma attached to postpartum depression.  Women are supposed to be euphoric to be at home with a new baby — even though the experience is often terrifying and overwhelming.

It’s helped that high-profile women (Adele, Serena Williams, Reese Witherspoon among them) have been public with their own struggles.

Recently,  Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s newly-minted minister of mental health and addictions, was directed by Prime Minister Trudeau to “ensure timely access to perinatal mental health services.”

That’s a triumph for Patricia Tomasi and Jaime Charlebois, co-founders of the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative (CPMHC) and tireless advocates for perinatal mental health.  

“Ensure timely access” is the piece Tomasi wanted to address in a recent interview, as mental health issues for new parents are skyrocketing during this pandemic.

And what affects mom affects baby, too, according to the CPMHC.

“Perinatal mental illness … is the single greatest determinant of a child’s health over the life course. Infants of people with perinatal mental illness are at a greater risk of developing mental illness in adulthood.”

Tomasi can appreciate what’s going on with the health-care system right now in this latest lockdown.

But she also knows that for moms in distress, there have to be immediate options.

“We have to get on it, in light of the crisis parents are in, with this lockdown, all the restrictions, work, kids, teaching kids at home.

“Parents are at the breaking point.”

There are health-care workers trained in perinatal help,  “but affordability is a barrier. If the government could step in and alleviate that barrier, either through a special fund or more funding.”

There are programs at most of the city’s major hospitals, “but they’re all maxed out right now. And so many health-care workers are being re-deployed.

“There are ways to get therapy and medication but no easy way to get it right away. The government has promised easy and quick access.”

The government has committed $4.5 billion over five years for free and accessible mental health services, which is great, but Tomasi stresses the need for immediate relief.

“We have to act now. We’re not guessing about the rates of increase of perinatal depression! We know it’s gone from one in five to, one in three. Canadian studies show rates have doubled.”

“This doesn’t go away. The future well-being of families is at stake. This is a preventative measure for something that could be devastating down the line.”

A statement from Bennett’s office addresses prioritizing mental health, after two years of pandemic, and outlines her clear mandate, “to ensure that mental health care is treated as a full and equal part of our universal health-care system.”

There will be a permanent, ongoing Canada Mental Health Transfer, offering, “more access to midwives, psychologists, therapists, social workers, mental health nurses, counsellors, and other community supports.”

As well, there’s the online mental health support aid Wellness Together, a prenatal nutrition program (which provides $26.5 million annually), and other public health resources promoting positive mental health of pregnant individuals.

All good, but what’s missing is the immediate, in-person help.

“People need live, one-on-one interaction with a health-care provider who can properly assess and treat,” said Tomasi. “There is help out there! We just need access to it.

“I can’t imagine what new parents are going through right now.”


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