Perinatal Mental Health During COVID Times…

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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.

Mental Health in the Workplace

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By Anita Manley

In honour of Labour Day, I thought I’d quote some statistics.

– Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68% who would talk about a family member having diabetes.

– 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.

– 39% of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.

– 40% of respondents to a 2016 survey agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.

– 46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and 27% said they would be fearful of being around someone who suffers from serious mental illness.

If you are in a leadership position in the workplace, what are you doing to create an inclusive and healthy environment for everyone? Do people in your workplace feel comfortable talking about their mental health, without feeling it would be a career limiting move?

I would love to hear from you all in the comments.

There is No Mental Health without Gut Health

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Guest Blog by Tay Gendron

Tay Gendron is a Holistic Nutritionist (CNP, NNCP) and yoga teacher who helps women fix their gut and balance their hormones so they can Break Up with their Anxiety for good. 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tay.gendron/

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/tayy.gendron

Website:https://www.taygendron.com/

The health of your gut plays an absolutely massive role in how well your brain functions, how your body produces hormones, neurotransmitters, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds critical for keeping your mood and mental health balanced, and keeping anxiety far, far away.

But, and this is a big but, gut health isn’t just important for mental health. The gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria that play a major role in how well (or not well) your body functions. Good gut health is the cornerstone of your entire body’s function and I’ll go so far as to say that you can’t have a healthy body without having a healthy gut (and I know I’d get backed up on that one…). If you’re experiencing chronic pain, look at your gut. Headaches, look at your gut. Fatigue, poor sleep, poor digestion (obviously), look at your gut. It’s where everything traces back to and you can’t have one without the other.

So you can see just how important gut health really is, take a look at what can happen if you have what is called dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiome):


● Inflammation
● Poor digestion
● Joint and muscle pain
● Autoimmune diseases
● Immune dysfunction
● Cancer
● Metabolic dysfunction
● Mental health conditions

That doesn’t cover all of it, but you can see how each of these categories is the umbrella for several other conditions. So, if your gut isn’t a healthy place, the risk of developing any number of these conditions increases exponentially.


I’ve dealt with my fair share of gut health imbalances and it’s led me to really hone in on helping women fix up their gut and hormones through foods and holistic lifestyle practices. Through countless struggles, experiments, and a whole ton of research, I’ve learned about the incredible and crazy strong link between gut health and mental health. This is why cultivating a healthy and balanced gut is the cornerstone of my practice. I work exclusively with women with anxiety and you cannot have mental health without gut health.


Here’s a quick explanation of the link I’m talking about.

If you’re trying to eliminate anxiety, you have to look at two things–neurotransmitters and hormones. When balanced, they lead to a balanced mental state, but when imbalanced, they can lead to disaster in the form of severe anxiety and other chronic health conditions. But where anxiety is concerned, your gut shines.

That’s for a couple reasons:
● More than 90% of serotonin (your happy neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut by your gut bugs, so you need to keep your gut bugs happy!
● Dietary protein provides essential amino acids for forming neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, GABA). You need enough stomach acid to properly digest and absorb protein.
● Dietary fat is the building blocks for hormone synthesis (estrogen-progesterone balance is key for regulating mood and neurotransmitter synthesis). You need a well-functioning liver to properly digest and absorb fat.

And that doesn’t even touch on inflammation. If your gut isn’t healthy, chances are that you are struggling with some semblance of leaky gut, which means that the gut lining that should be completely sealed and impermeable develops small micropores that allow food particles to leak through. Because your body doesn’t recognize these food particles that aren’t in their simplest form, it sets off alarm bells and your immune system responds by triggering the inflammatory cascade.


Inflammation of the gut stresses the microbiome through the release of cytokines and neurotransmitters, and when coupled with intestinal permeability means these inflammatory molecules can now travel systemically and interfere with the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Release into the brain influences brain function and leads to mood disorders and imbalances like anxiety, depression, and memory issues.


That’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at it, but it all stems from your gut. When there are imbalances present, it interferes with your entire body function, not just your brain. And it’s why for me, getting my clients gut health under control is the key to eliminating their anxiety and any other existing health conditions.

If you’re reading this and have no idea where to start my Gut Health for Mental Health EBook walks you through the three pillars of optimizing gut health.

And remember — gut health isn’t just important for mental health, when you can clean the gut, you can clean up body-wide health!

Tay Gendron teaches us all about gut health in this week’s Guest Blog. Follow Tay on social media and check out her website and EBook.

A dose of hope…

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By Anita Manley

I’m tired and stressed out about many things, including taking the elevators in my building. I really dislike being “that person” who says “sorry, no, you cannot get on the elevator.” (Public Health rules state: “one person per elevator unless you are from the same household”). Too often, I encounter some very rude and upset people who are in a hurry to get somewhere, and they say something nasty.

But, having had both vaccines… and with restrictions moving into Step 2 in Ontario, I’m beginning to feel hopeful. Just yesterday, I received a photo of my friend’s family up at her cottage. There, sitting on one couch, all together, were: my friend (in her fifties), her 95 year old mom, and her son and his pregnant wife– sitting tightly together with big smiles on their faces and — no masks! WOW! What a great picture! For me, it represented hope! They had all been double vaccinated.

On July 1, my husband’s birthday, we will be gathering as a family of 4 (from 3 different households), and depending on the weather, we may all be indoors. Imagine – indoors… with family, sharing a meal, without masks! WOW! It has been a very long time.

Businesses are starting to open up, patios and soon restaurants will be open for indoor dining and — live music!! This is all very exciting and hopeful. The more people get vaccinated, the more freedom we’ll have.

Let’s not mess this up! Continue to follow public health guidelines by wearing a mask in doors in public areas and staying 2 meters apart. Continue washing your hands with soap and water (while singing happy birthday — twice). I’m sure that all of you, like me, do not want to go backwards with restrictions at any point in the future. I know that I am very much looking forward to getting on a plane to visit my new grandchild. Please, follow guidelines so that we all will be free to travel and resume a somewhat normal life.

This is our shot! Get vaccinated! Wear a mask! Stay 2 meters apart and continue washing your hands. Now is not the time to be lax with any of these measures.

The vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.

Take good care, Canada! This is our shot!

The COVID vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.

Who Knew?

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By Anita Manley

Recently, I had a dentist appointment. I love my dentist, Dr. Chris Granger, and my dental hygienist, Holly. On this visit, I learned some very interesting and important things about oral hygiene.

Did you know that by using whitening toothpaste too often, you can actually make your teeth yellow? No kidding. Holly says that the whitening toothpastes are too abrasive and wear away the enamel (the hard layer of the tooth). Dental enamel covers the softer yellowish dentin layer of the tooth. As the enamel wears away, it will expose the dentin underneath. True story! If you do want to whiten your teeth, Holly recommends Crest Whitening strips. Hydrogen peroxide (its main ingredient) can remove dental stains safely when used as directed.

Did you know that flossing your teeth regulary (every day or every second day) is important– and, not just for the removal of food? I did not! I thought, oh– I don’t have food stuck between my teeth– no need to floss. Not so, says Holly. “You should be flossing regularly to clear your gums from the build-up of harmful bacteria.” I’ve since learned that just brushing often isn’t enough to remove plaque and prevent cavities. Also, floss can get into tight spaces and remove 80% of plaque. (I should tell you that I’ve never had a cavity in my lifetime. I believe that this is the reason I’ve been so lazy about flossing.)

I’ve also learned that, if left untreated, bacteria in an unhealthy mouth can actually harm the rest of your body. Gingivitis (gum disease) can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, leading to heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses. (1)

So, since flossing only takes a couple of minutes out of my day, but will have huge benefits for my long-term health– not only my dental health– guess who’s flossing everynight before bed? ME! My goal is to not only make Holly happy at my next appointment, but to improve my dental health as well. Holly says I have several spots of swollen and bleeding gums. She also tells me that with regular brushing and flossing, this can be reversed!

Holly even encouraged me to set up a reminder on my phone. No excuses!

I hope this post encourages you to brush and floss regularly, too. Oh, and I forgot to mention how much money you could save at the dentist!

But wait a minute– you might be saying– what does this post have to do with mental health? Well, many people have anxiety associated with dental appoitnments. For me, I think going to the dentist is so much fun, that I booked my next appointment on my birthday! I get that I’m a little peculiar.

I imagine many of you are way ahead of me in the flossing game. At 56, I’m definitely “late to the party”. Let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you guys.

For more important and interesting points about oral health, follow Holly’s Blog at: https://www.mytoothbetold.com/

It’s what you do for your oral hygiene between dental appointments that really counts!

“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…”

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By Anita Manley

Hi folks, I’ve been absent for a few weeks now, trying to manage my anxiety around some important issues that are beyond my control. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not good at this. My Mom always told me: “don’t worry about things that you cannot control”. I think of her words regularly and really give it the good ol’ college try, but if I have to do this for too long, I fail miserably. Everyone’s perception of ‘too long’ varies. Mine is about a month. After a month, I start to think of what if, then what, etc.

I’ve had two pretty important issues ‘up in the air’ for over a month, one I’m still waiting on. So, I had to do something to manage my anxiety. I talked to my support people and then I decided to keep busy doing things I love to do, in order to keep my mind from wandering down a potentially negative path. I decided to do more knitting during free moments (I’m now working on a baby blanket and bunny for my new grandbaby, expected in July), journaling and painting (acrylic on canvas). All of these activities help me to stay in the present moment and while doing them, I feel as though I lose track of time. I would even say they are ‘meditative’. It worked! I’m not exactly an expert at “not worrying”, but I have mostly managed to overcome the beast.

So, I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, and let the cards fall as they may. Whatever happens, happens! I know that I can deal with the outcome. I’m so much better at coping with the known, than the unknown. I’m a work in progress. In the meantime, I’m creating some wonderful knitted objects and beautiful art, and greatly enjoying it.

I just read a Peanuts posting that said, very fittingly, “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good.”

I will continue to do my very best ‘not to worry’ about things beyond my control. Besides, Mother knows best. At least I know my Mom always did!

How do you cope with things beyond your control?

Journaling, knitting and painting have helped me stay focused, quelled my fears… and give me HOPE.

Coping Strategies

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By Anita Manley

I think we all need a little extra help these days– strategizing on how to cope.

Here are some very helpful tips from The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC):

Strategies to help you cope:

1. Accept and validate your feelings,

understanding that stress and anxiety are normal during challenging times.

2. Recognize what’s within your control

and focus on those factors when trying to mitigate the stress.

3. Remember that this is temporary

and will pass.

4. Take care of your health

by eating and sleeping well, exercising and meditating.

5. Make time for yourself

with activities you enjoy that are free from COVID-19 related topics.

Remember– you are worth it! Take time out for self-care everyday.

Among other things, take time to enjoy yourself everyday!

Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19

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Guest Blog by The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

“It’s OK to feel stressed and anxious, especially right now. While many of us are finding solace in another NETFLIX marathon, there are lots of other safe activities we can do to help keep our stress levels in check.”

“(The Royal) asked two of (their) recreational therapists– Ashleigh McGuinty and Sara Richardson-Brown– to share their top six anxiety-busting strategies they recommend to clients and families, and this is what they came up with.”

“These are just six out of thousands of options.”

#1. Engage in Creative Arts

Creative activities like visual arts, writing, music, drama, and movement can help decrease anxiety and stress, and promote positive mood & increased confidence and self-identity.

#2. Get out into nature

Promote feelings of well-being, lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of anxiety & depression, and improve physical activity levels by spending time outdoors.

#3. Practice mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and can substantially reduce stress. Techniques like focusing on breath, meditation, and mindful walking are some examples of mindfulness tools.

#4. Spend time with a pet

The companionship of a pet can reduce stress, improve mood and self-esteem, increase happiness, and decrease loneliness & isolation.

#5. Listen to music

Improve your mood, sleep, and overall happiness by making a playlist and throw on some music while doing chores, working, or cooking.

#6. Move more

Regular exercise is shown to help reduce anxiety and tension, promote positive mood, and increase self-esteem and confidence. @fitnessblender has over 600 free home workout videos and programs!

How do you manage stress during COVID? Let me know in the comments.

The importance of reaching out for support

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By Anita Manley

 

I remember being in such a dark place that I wanted nothing more than the pain to end. In my distorted mind, I thought the only way out was suicide.  Fortunately, I made it through those terrifying days, continuing to live — and am I ever thankful that I did!  I also remember feeling as though I was a burden to everyone, since I was so depressed and couldn’t contribute.  Hell, I couldn’t even get out of bed to have a shower.  My family insisted that I was not a burden, that they loved me dearly and that “this too shall pass” — and they were right — the dark rain cloud did pass, and sunny days reigned again.

You are worth it! Every human being on this earth has value and contributes in their own unique way to the universe. You are not a burden (even when you are struggling the most). You are lovable and you deserve the best. You do!  Believe it.

Lately, I have heard of so many of my friends battling with feelings of self-worth. Depression. Anxiety. And, some with suicidal ideation — wanting to end their life as feelings of shame and desperation take over.

Please — in times like these — reach out for help.

Fortunately,  in all cases, my friends have come through this by seeking support from others.  One drove herself to the emergency department. Is she ever glad she did!  Today she is living a much better life after receiving life-changing trauma therapy. She is so much happier now, has greater self-esteem — and celebrates each day, each week since the day she chose not to take her life. (For inspiration follow: The Maven of Mayhem on Facebook, @maven_of_mayhem on Instagram, and @MavenOfMayhem on Twitter).

Another friend reached out to family for encouragement, and to medical professionals to request a change in medication. Yet another, asked her support network to get together socially (at a distance), reaching out for basic needs and for medical requirements.

How can we be that supportive person…  to our loved ones in need?

According to Ann-Marie O’Brien, Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal (@StrongGirl51 on Twitter):

“It begins by asking, ‘How can I help?’ The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.”

Recently, I have reached out to medical professionals — for my own help. When my family doctor suggested anxiety medication, as she heard so much anguish, pain and anxiety in my voice: I replied persistently, “No… I just need to talk to someone about it.” I am not against medication — I take it every day to help me stay well — but I know that I do not need more at the moment.  Then, when speaking with my psychiatrist, she offered an increase in anti-psychotic medication. I repeated firmly, “No… I just need some psychotherapy. Can you please refer me to a psychologist?”  Fortunately for me, I was refered to a psychologist for psychotherapy after advocating for myself clearly and persistently. The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones, friends, or professionals for help when you need it. You are worth it! Repeat this to yourself : “I am worth it. Life will get better. I will not be in this dark place forever.” Advocate for yourself.  If at first you do not get what you need, repeat your needs calmly and persistently over and over again, until you get what you are looking for.

Choose life! Reach out for support. You are worth it!

Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1-800-273-8255

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Reach out for support. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Decluttering for peace of mind.

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By Anita Manley

 

During the first few weeks of COVID-19, while cooped up in our small one-bedroom apartment, it was clear we had one BIG problem. CLUTTER. Clutter had accumulated EVERYWHERE. On my desk in the bedroom, on the coffee table in the living room (my second desk!), the dining room table, and due to being home all day: a multitude of dirty dishes, piled high, in the kitchen. All this disorganization and messiness was really getting me down.

I talked to my daughter, Nicola, on the phone and she was doing some great decluttering herself… thus inspired, I started with my desk and committed to it by telling Nicola I was going to attempt to clear it off by our next call (in a week’s time). So! Mission accomplished: papers thrown out or filed, books were put onto a bookshelf or given away and I even got rid of an orchid, whose bare branches were not bringing me joy. It felt great… Marie Kondo would’ve been proud of me. I know Nicola was, when I showed her the results on our next video chat.

Then, I moved onto my “other desk” in the living room. Same thing — voila! Then into my closets — I emptied all of the clothes I never wear and piled them for donation; winter clothes were stored away downstairs and underwear/ sock drawer was cleared out into bins, making room for more clothing. I was on a roll — but still: nothing was getting me down more, than the thought of that endless trail of dirty dishes awaiting… in the kitchen.

Perhaps anyone living/ working from home during COVID without a dishwasher can relate.  Cooking and eating every meal at home adds up to a lot of dishes in a day. One skipped day of doing the dishes can set you behind and be super depressing. Envision attempting to prepare a meal with a small counter and dirty dishes encroaching on all surfaces, leaving no room for preparation. I was feeling super frustrated and was recounting this story to my friend on a walk through a lush forest in her neighbourhood one sunny morning. The ‘dreaded dishes’ dilemma. She so very kindly texted me the next day and asked what my plans were for dinner.  I replied: nothing that couldn’t be changed.  She said OK, do up your dishes and I am going to deliver your next meal.  A few hours later, there was a beautiful casserole, salad and berry crisp for dessert — ready to eat. My husband and I felt so indebted to her for making this kindly gesture that we also resolved to keep up with the dishes ever since.

I can honestly say that the lack of clutter throughout our home has reduced my anxiety and feelings of depression. I also feel I am sleeping better at night.

Therefore, it was no surprise to me when I recently picked up the book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, to see that in her very first chapter she listed “toss, restore, organize” as goals towards “Boosting Energy” and creating a happier life. Or, that Sue-Anne Hickey of Bodytypology listed “decluttering and creating a relaxing atmosphere” as a way to prevent insomnia.

Whether you decide to read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, or not: I know you will benefit from decluttering your living space.

Give it a try — one room at a time — for better peace of mind.

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Now, doesn’t this image of a tidy apartment (not my own) bring inner peace?