Building mental health support systems for new mothers

Toronto , Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Claire Kerr-Zlobin is dedicated to raising awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Ten years ago, Claire Kerr-Zlobin was a new mom facing social isolation, loneliness and other symptoms that would lead to a diagnosis of postpartum depression – a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).

When her search for community support uncovered a lack of options, Claire was compelled to build her own network to help other families of young children dealing with the same issues.

She founded Life With a Baby, a free resource that has since become one of Canada’s largest parenting peer-support networks. The network offers local social events that encourage face-to-face interaction, online support forums and multilingual parenting programs.

What Claire experienced is not rare; 1 in 5 women struggle with a mental health complication during the perinatal period.

Pregnancy and the first postpartum year are particularly vulnerable times. Parents who are fatigued and experiencing changes in sleep patterns and responsibilities may also develop a number of perinatal mood disorders during this period, including anxiety, depression and postpartum psychosis.

Maternal depression can also pose a significant risk to the healthy development of a child: “When you’re struggling with maternal depression, it can be challenging to find the energy to interact with your daughter or son, which can impact a child’s brain development. This delayed physical, social and cognitive development can have long-term implications for a child’s physical and mental health.”

Today, Life With A Baby partners with corporate, medical, and government bodies to raise awareness and advocate for the development of a national maternal mental health strategy.

“As it stands, the onus is on the mom to identify her diagnosis and then seek out treatment and resources on her own. New mothers aren’t screened for mental illness, or offered referral pathways and treatment options.”

Life With A Baby has merged a number of resources to simplify the act of seeking out support for new mothers, but Claire recommends that new moms who are concerned they might be experiencing a PMAD ask their family doctor to take the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale.

“The scale doesn’t provide a diagnosis, but it can open up a conversation about maternal mental illness and community resources that are available.”

For those who know someone who is living with a PMAD, Claire offers some advice:

“Let her know she is not alone. Let her know that this is an illness and isn’t her fault, and encourage her to speak to a health professional about her feelings.”

Caption: Claire Kerr-Zlobin and her family in the summer of 2018