Mom who had postpartum depression welcomes new mental health supports

Health PEI has launched new tools aimed at identifying postpartum depression, and better-supporting maternal mental health.

'You feel helpless and alone and guilty'

Sarah Sparks credits her husband with helping her to get through the worst of her postpartum depression. (Submitted by Sarah Sparks)

Sarah Sparks had a great job, an easy pregnancy and a happy home with a loving husband. But after a difficult labour, and trouble breastfeeding, it wasn't long before postpartum depression set in.

"I felt very ashamed and didn't talk about it, I tried to hide it," Sparks said. "I felt very disconnected from my daughter, I didn't look at her, I didn't want to be around her, because I felt like she was perfect, and that I wasn't good enough to deserve her."

The depression was debilitating for her. She'd stay in bed for hours, or hide in the bathroom crying.

"You feel so helpless and alone and guilty because being a mom is supposed to be this magical experience — everybody talks about the happy things of becoming a mother."

A brochure created by Health PEI discusses postpartum depression. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

She said it wasn't until she reached out to her family doctor, six months after the birth of her daughter, that she got the help she needed — some medication and therapy. She credits her husband with getting her through the worst of it.

New Health PEI initiative 

Officials say 193 Island women accessed perinatal and postpartum depression mental health supports through the Women's Wellness Program last year.

The new maternal mental health supports start at the first home visit, just days after baby is born. Public health nurses will provide more information about PPD to new moms, as well as a brochure on identifying PPD, and where to find help.

Sarah Sparks says she's glad to see Health PEI put a focus on postpartum depression, though she'd like to see more education with parents prior to giving birth. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Two months after the baby is born, every mother will be screened using the Edinburgh Perinatal/Postnatal Depression scale. From there, referrals will be sent to a newly appointed Women's Wellness Program mental health social worker for clinical care, or referrals to community mental health, if necessary.   

'We need to have a conversation'

Sparks applauds Health PEI for taking a more formal approach to supporting families through PPD — but said instead of brochures, having the pertinent information in another format, like a fridge magnet, might be more helpful.

"You get a whole stack of brochures when you're expecting and when you leave the hospital, who honestly reads all of those?" Sparks said. "We need to have a conversation person to person, what to look for, what to expect, that way it can open people's eyes more."

She'd like to see more emphasis on educating new parents about PPD prior to the birth of their child. She suggests parents plan for their mental health just as they do in every other way — buying the gear, reading the books — for their new arrival.

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Jessica Doria-Brown


Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.