Perinatal Mental Health During COVID Times…

GUEST BLOG by Nancy McLaren Kennedy

BIO: Firstly, Nancy is my friend and colleague at The Royal. She is also a Peer Specialist/Mental Health Worker in Women’s Mental Health at the Royal. Nancy has a Master’s in Social Work and is the proud mom of three teens.

Most people have heard of postpartum depression. Not as many people have heard that you can experience anxiety, bipolar disorder or psychosis for the first time while pregnant and after giving birth. Depression is not the only type of mental illness that can emerge during the perinatal period.

Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 perinatal people would have a mood or anxiety disorder. We know these numbers are higher for black, indigenous, people of colour, LGBTQIA2+ people and people who have experienced trauma.

Although I could not find an exact percentage, one Canadian study reported a significant increase in depression and anxiety during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic numbers. COVID and physical distancing has really changed the way people experience pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

During COVID, formal and informal support for perinatal people has been impacted. Pre-pandemic a person who gave birth would go to their midwife or doctor’s office for an appointment and they would sit in the park with others. Their parents, friends or relatives would drop by to chat, hold the baby or do a small chore. With physical distancing and COVID regulations, these meetings and supports diminished, if not altogether disappeared.

New parents are also concerned about the physical safety of their baby and this can lead to stopping visits with friends and family. Participants in the peer groups that I co-facilitate have told us that in addition to depression and anxiety they are also experiencing loneliness and isolation.

During the pandemic, pregnant people have had to give up their expectation of an in-person baby shower and spending time with relatives while they are pregnant. Birthing people would have limitations imposed on the number of people who could be present at their baby’s birth. There would be restrictions on coming into and leaving the hospital while their partner is labouring.

In Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group we recognized that pregnant people and people who have given birth, would need support during the pandemic. We were not able to offer in person services so we moved to online delivery. At the Royal, in the Women’s Mental Health program we have peer facilitated groups that include: Journaling as a Wellness Tool-Perinatal version, Life with a Baby and 2 Wellness (virtual) drop-ins. Our groups are built on peer support principles: we don’t try to fix anyone and we believe that people are the experts of themselves.

The reason I am interested in supporting pregnant and postpartum people is because I also struggled with mental illness during my perinatal period, years ago. When I was pregnant and after I gave birth to my son, I thought it was normal to be sad all the time, crying, worried about the safety of my baby and having intrusive thoughts of dying and my baby dying.  This is not a normal part of pregnancy and early parenthood. After the birth of my twin daughters, I again stopped sleeping, felt unreal and began to hear voices. I was hospitalized and moved towards wellness with medication and informal peer support from people who had similar experiences.

I knew I wanted to use my lived expertise to help other women experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and birth. I wanted to show people that it is possible to have a mental illness and then feel better. You can get pregnant, give birth and be a mother/parent/caregiver with a mental illness.

To register for one of our virtual groups you can email me at: nancy.mclarenkennedy@theroyal.ca

Recovery is possible after experiencing perinatal mental health issues. Help is available.

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