Abigail Moran was no stranger to anxiety, but it’s been under control for years.
Then the first-time mom, who lives in a town outside Winnipeg, started to feel more anxious going round after round of prenatal medical appointments without her fiancé due to pandemic restrictions. After constantly worrying about contracting COVID-19, she ended up quitting her job in her third trimester to go on a stressful vacation.
But the sheer pressure of isolation and uncertainty — as well as the usual stress of having a newborn — really escalated once her daughter Iris was born in March, before Manitoba began experiencing its third wave of cases.
“The happiness of being a mother shattered, numbers went up, and everything was a snowball,” she said.
Moran remembers breaking point was having a sleepless night several weeks after her daughter was born, then walking around alone and exhausted the next day running errands—and worrying all the time whether her newborn was still breathing in the back seat.
She said, “As I drove home, I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore unless I get some help with it.
Soon after she got home, Moran made an appointment with her doctor.
Her experience mirrors what many Canadian parents have said throughout the pandemic — that anxiety, stress and feelings of exhaustion are high among people who have children — but in Moran’s case, she reached her breaking point and knew it was time to seek help.
Now, Canadian research just published suggests that the pressure on new mothers in particular has translated to more postpartum individuals seeking postpartum mental health support.
Visits up to 34 percent in one month
The study, published Monday in Journal of the Canadian Medical Association By a team of researchers in Toronto, it was found that monthly mental health visits for people after giving birth in Ontario rose at a rate of more than 25 percent during most of 2020 compared to previous years.
The research team was led by Dr. Simone Fegood, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital and associate chief scientist at the Institute for Clinical Osteopathic Sciences, a health information nonprofit. They looked at demographic data and mental health visits for more than 137,000 people in Ontario during the postpartum period from March through November 2020.
After Ontario declared a state of emergency in mid-March, there were marked increases in demand from April onwards, with postpartum people receiving care each month rising by a range of 16 to 34 percent compared to data collected from previous years, according to the study. .
“We’re talking about a huge amount of growing needs,” Feygood told CBC News.
“People go to their doctors, get a diagnosis, and maybe need treatment.”
While her team’s findings focused on one province, she predicts that there may be similar trends in other areas where new parents have to endure months of isolation and limited postpartum support from extended family and friends.
New parents at risk ‘at the best of times’
Dr. Tali Bugler, chief of family medicine and obstetrics at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, agreed that mental health stress on new mothers and families in general is likely to be a problem across Canada, and not just during the postpartum period.
Since launching a social media-based initiative called The Epidemic Pregnancy Guide with colleagues in April 2020, she has said that Instagram account got more than 30,000 followersAnd her team is now raising questions and concerns for new parents and new parents across the country.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the perinatal population, and when I say perinatal, I mean pre-conception, trying to conceive, during pregnancy and after childbirth,” she said.
Bugler noted that in pre-pandemic times, medical experts estimated that about 1 in 5 perinatal individuals end up dealing with a mental health problem such as symptoms of anxiety or depression, and those numbers are now believed to be much higher.
“This is a particularly vulnerable demographic at the best of times,” she said. “It’s a huge transformation in a person’s life, in a family’s life.”
During the pandemic, with many districts in lockdown, the usual support networks for families have often been disrupted, and previous surveys have indicated that a lack of support has affected parents’ mental health.
One survey in September of more than 1,000 Canadian adults From the Center on Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, for example, 30 percent of parents with children under 18 found that they feel depressed—a figure 10 percent higher than the percentage of childless adults who report feeling depressed. Likewise.
Low-income patients may face barriers
Fegood was not surprised when her research team found a surprising spike in mental health visits echoing those previous types of surveys, although she was surprised by the scale of the need.
She added that it was also not expected that the lowest income group in her study recorded the least increase in visitation rates.
The research reads: “This raises some concern about the potential for needs to be unmet because patients with lower incomes may face greater barriers in accessing care.”
Watch | A mother in Winnipeg explains her postpartum anxiety:
The team wrote that this could mean difficulty in providing the in-house technology required for common online appointments, or virtually no private space to meet with medical professionals while living in a crowded home.
Fegood noted that the cost of mental health services themselves could also be a major barrier. “Across Canada, there are limits to access to affordable psychotherapy,” she said.
Vigod and Bogler stressed the growing body of data showing families under stress which means more support is needed, including for postpartum mothers.
Vigood and her research team advised: “Health systems should proactively focus on patients from high-risk groups, monitor waiting lists for care, and explore creative solutions to expand system capacity, with particular attention to postpartum patients who may face barriers to care.”
Mom says mental health issues aren’t an option
In Moran’s case, her appointment led to a prescription for anti-anxiety medication — a tool she used years ago — and some new coping strategies.
With the weather getting warmer, she now spends most of her time outside with Iris, usually tending to the back garden in her cottage, while her business partner is. It is calming, she said, and she is also looking forward to spending more time with family and friends in the coming months.
She also said it was critical for other Canadians to understand the difficulties new parents still face, more than a year into the pandemic – and that it is no one’s fault that they are dealing with a massive life-changing during a global health crisis.
People sometimes ask Moran why she shouldn’t wait before having a baby, but she said you can’t expect people to put their lives on hold for so long.
“We chose to have our child, but that doesn’t mean we chose to have all the mental health components that go along with it,” she said.