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.

Delusional Disorder

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By Anita Manley

This is a difficult topic for me to write about, as it is very personal and will reveal many details of my symptoms and beliefs when I was mentally unwell for about 10 years (a gradually worsening illness). It makes me feel very vulnerable– but, I’m told that there is strength in vulnerabilty. I’m hoping that by writing about it, I will help educate people about delusions — a form of psychosis.

Beginning in the early 2000s, I started having delusions. Although previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had never experienced delusions in my life before then. I have since learned that delusional disorder, although rather rare– usually appears in middle to late life.

The types of delusional disorders include:

  • Erotomanic. Someone with this type of delusional disorder believes that another person, often someone important or famous, is in love with him or her. The person might attempt to contact the object of the delusion, and stalking behaviour is not uncommon.
  • Grandiose. A person with this type of delusional disorder has an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity. The person might believe he or she has a great talent or has made an important discovery.
  • Jealous. A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that his or her spouse or sexual partner is unfaithful.
  • Persecutory. People with this type of delusional disorder believe that they (or someone close to them) are being mistreated, or that someone is spying on them or planning to harm them. It is not uncommon for people with this type of delusional disorder to make repeated complaints to legal authorities.
  • Somatic. A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that he or she has a physical defect or medical problem.
  • Mixed. People with this type of delusional disorder have two or more of the types of delusions listed above.

    As for me, I would have been categorized as ‘mixed’.

    Although for many years I could socialize and function quite normally, I strongly believed that my former psychiatrist loved me (I was in love with him, too). I believed that he was communicating with me through other people (my friends, family and even strangers), through transceivers that everyone had implanted in their ears– and, through songs on the radio. I also believed that there were cameras in my home and car and that people who I knew, but could not see, (known as my angel family) were watching me. I also had an inflated sense of self. So basically, my ‘mixed’ delusional state included: erotomanic, grandiose and persecutory– for years!

    It was so difficult living in this constant state of confusion and eventually I became so preoccupied with these delusions that it caused major disruption in my life– eventually, I lost my job, access to my beloved children, all family and friends, and ultimately became homeless.

    Now, after receiving proper intensive care, treatment and medication at The Royal, I’m happily living in recovery. On December 1st of 2021, I will have been living in my beautiful little apartment that I got the keys to 10 years prior. I’m so thrilled that my delusional thinking is behind me– and, I’m leading a fulfilling and healthy life. I’m reunited with my daughters, I’m in a loving relationship with my partner, and my eldest daughter is expecting our first grandchild very soon. I am beyond grateful to be fully present… in my current life.

    Recovery is possible! Even from serious mental illness. There is always hope and it helps when people around you believe that you can get better.

Let it go!

By Anita Manley

Perhaps you are now envisioning me breaking out into the Frozen theme song! And, I’m OK with that.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a good friend and colleague about some things that happened in the past. Specifically, about the loss of so many friendships and the loss of a loving and functional relationship with my oldest daughter due to the symptoms of severe and persistent mental illness.

My friend said to me, “Just let it go! You cannot dwell on all the losses. Be thankful for all the privileges you have in your life now.” I do agree with his advice and I believe I have mostly tried to live my life this way starting a couple of years into my recovery, around 2013.

I lost my Mom to cancer that year. But I was truly grateful that she did not die before we had the opportunity to reconnect, as we did in October of 2011. Fortunately, I was able to spend a great deal of time with her (even though she lived in Toronto and I live in Ottawa) up until her death in December 2013.

I also decided, around that time, to remain hopeful of reconnecting with my daughter Nicola. Rather than being sad, distraught and miserable, often crying due to the loss of my relationship with her, I made a choice to be happy with the relationships I did have and to cherish those. Especially, the very special relationship I have with my daughter, Julia. In addition to losing connection with Nicola, despite my recovery, I lost connection forever with a number of good friends from my past, two of whom I had been friends with since high school and university days. This was tough to overcome. After all, I had recovered and was well now – why could they not see and respect this and reconnect with me?

I must admit, when I think about all these losses – it still hurts tremendously. But I did decide to LET IT GO in order to live a happier life. I could not change the past. I could not take back the sometimes hurtful words I said to people while experiencing delusions. So, I no longer dwell on these losses and instead think back on the wonderful times spent with these friends and family members.

As a result, I have been able to make a lot of new friends who enjoy being around me and love me for who I am. And, as I patiently awaited for my daughter, Nicola, to come around…she finally did by inviting me to her wedding last October, 2018 on Vancouver Island! My benevolent friends and family members all pitched in money for our wedding in July, 2018 to help send us out west to attend her wedding and for a bit of a honeymoon. It was a trip of a lifetime for Ron and I. What JOY it was for me to see my first born daughter again, for the first time in over 10 years. And, to see her Dad walk her down the aisle! It was a very special moment indeed. Since then, Nicola and I communicate sporadically on Messenger around special occasions and I am overjoyed with every single message I receive from her.

By being able to LET GO of all of my past losses and grief, I have been able to create a happy, fulfilling and love filled life. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have found that focusing on what I am grateful for in the present moment and by setting attainable goals for the future, I am a happier and healthier version of me. A person that people enjoy being around. This is a far ways away from the years I spent alone and isolated from anyone other than those who were paid to care for me. No wonder I am so happy these days! I have so much to be grateful for. I have a loving husband, his large family, my lovely daughter, Julia, my extended family, lots of friends and a slow growing relationship with Nicola, her husband Roy and his family. I am truly blessed.

Let go of all your past baggage! It will be easier to live in the present and to move into the future without all that excessive load weighing you down.

Let it go!