The postpartum period can be difficult for women. In addition to the many stresses of being a parent, as many as one in five women also suffer from postpartum depression and anxiety. Yet, as few as 20 per cent of mothers who have symptoms seek treatment, often due to barriers such as stigma associated with mental illness and practical problems such as transportation, availability and cost of childcare, and having access to local specialty treatment – all resulting in health gaps that women face every day.
To help close these gaps in care, Women’s College Hospital (WCH) offers Mother Matters – a 10-week anonymous online postpartum mental health support group for women, specially designed to address these barriers.
Open to women from anywhere in Ontario, Mother Matters was created to get mothers the help they need, day or night. It does this by giving new moms a forum to speak to a healthcare professional and their peers about issues such as post-partum depression and anxiety – all from the comfort and privacy of their own home.
“The many challenges that new mothers face, both physical and mental, are not easy to talk about without fear of judgment,” said Greer Slyfield Cook, social worker/mental health therapist in the Reproductive Life Stages program, in the Women’s Mental Health Program at WCH. “There is still a stigma associated with saying that motherhood is hard and may not the best time of your life. That is why it is so important to have an outlet where new moms can speak to one another while knowing their privacy is protected.”
The program, which runs two 10-week online sessions a year, is facilitated by two WCH therapists. Each week, readings about topics relevant to the transition to motherhood are posted in the private forum and discussion questions are posed to the group. Through these discussion threads, the therapists are able to provide clinical support and education to patients. Patients can also start their own threads regarding their own concerns and get support from their peers.
All participants have the option of using their real name, or choosing an alias if they want their identity to remain private. The 24/7 online access means that the forums can be accessed at any time, whether during the day or in the middle of the night after a late feeding. Women who need mental health support beyond what Mother Matters provides can be confidentially connected to other types of help with the help of WCH professional therapists.
“Being involved in Mother Matters has been an awesome way to stay connected to other mothers, especially when it’s difficult to leave your house in -30 Celsius weather with a new baby,” said Jane Smith*, a past patient of the program. “I felt that sometimes other people didn’t understand what it was like to be a new mom in this day and age. Being in a small northern Ontario community has some unique challenges, so being a part of Mother Matters has been a great way to get that experience from your own home at a time that is good for you.”
One of the program’s objectives is to ensure that there is a noticeable improvement in patients’ mental state and in their risk for post-partum depression. To monitor this, each patient is asked to complete an Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale before and after the program. In the last four rounds, results have shown a consistent 50 per cent improvement of potential risk factors, proving that Mother Matters is dramatically reducing the chances of new moms developing such depression.
Please note, these groups will be conducted as part of a research study. All women who meet the eligibility criteria will have the opportunity to participate in the group.
To learn more about Mother Matters, click here.