Help for depressed new mothers is now just a text message away

A new texting service offered by the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba is helping new mothers who may be struggling with feelings of isolation, hopelessness and sadness — all classic symptoms of postpartum depression.

New service offers help to deal with the pain of postpartum depression

Tara Brousseau Snider of the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba says the new text service is designed to offer support for new mothers who may be struggling with postpartum depression. (CBC)

A new texting service offered by the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba is helping new mothers who may be struggling with feelings of isolation, hopelessness and sadness — all classic symptoms of postpartum depression.

MDAM executive director Tara Brousseau Snider says that out of about 10,000 births in Winnipeg every year, 20 per cent of those women suffer from the mood disorder after delivery. Because those young mothers are usually isolated at home — isolation that contributes to the depression — the association needed to find some way to reach them.

"I have to give credit to the women in our office. They said they would have reached out if they could have texted," Brousseau Snider said. "So we quickly realized that the texting was the one ingredient we've been missing."

That's how the idea of a texting service for women struggling with postpartum depression was created.

The MDAM wanted to gauge interest before funding the program, so on July 17, they posted a message on Facebook. In just eight days, the message had more than 62,000 views and close to 800 shares.

"We've been struggling to find where we can reach them … I think we've found the solution," Brousseau Snider said.

In the eight days since the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba began advertising the new text messaging service on its Facebook page, they've had almost 800 shares. (Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba/Facebook)

New mothers, especially younger ones, are much more likely to text because it is easier than reaching out by phone or leaving the house, Brousseau Snider says. The program also allows the MDAM to reach the parents where they are: at home.

Symptoms of postpartum depression range from feelings of hopelessness and sadness to an inability to feel attached to the baby. Women can feel withdrawn, empty and may cry often. Brousseau Snider says new moms are told that this is supposed to be a joyous part of life. But if they don't feel that way, they're afraid to express it.

"Coupled with being tired and experiencing hormonal changes, being a new mom can add up to feeling very alone and very overwhelmed," she said.

That was the case for Winnipeg mother Lisa Gibson, who was suffering with postpartum depression in 2013 when she killed her two young children before taking her own life.

Gibson was a pharmacist and after the tragedy, many female colleagues wanted to do more to help. So Shoppers Drug Mart stepped in to fund all of the MDAM programs for women with postpartum depression. This includes the new texting service, one of many programs funded by Shoppers Love You, a campaign to raise awareness and support programs that promote women's health.

The body of Lisa Gibson was found in the Red River several days after her children were found critically injured in the bathtub of their Winnipeg home. (Winnipeg Police Service)

The new service isn't just for mothers. Brousseau Snider says text messages can be sent by a friend, co-worker, husband or grandparent.

The texter will get a response by text from a postpartum depression co-ordinator who will assess the need. The co-ordinator will help determine the nature and seriousness of the woman's mood.

Questions ranging from "Do I have it?" to "How can I get help?" will be answered, assessed and triaged to next steps. It will help women self-diagnose and get help.

"I think this is the answer to how we're going to be helping more women with postpartum depression," Brousseau Snider said. "We're very excited."

Five years after Lisa Gibson's death and the death of her two children, Brousseau Snider says things have begun to change. She points to the range of new programs offered by the MDAM, and funded by Shoppers Loves You, which include a four-week course for new parents, coping techniques, a postpartum phone support line and support groups.

"There's a whole number of reasons why we need to reach new parents," Brousseau Snider said. "But if we can reach them so that babies can attach and moms can get help right from the beginning with depression we're going to change lives for the better."

Five years on, Brousseau Snider says, she's still in touch with Gibson's family because the Shoppers Love You Campaign was created as a result of the tragedy. Gibson's family attends the launch of the campaign every year.

"They're grateful to see the progress."

The text service number is  204-391-5983 and can be reached any day of the week between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. More resources and information about postpartum depression can be found by visiting the MDAM's website.


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