PEI

Island mothers share experiences of mental health struggles

A woman from P.E.I. is organizing a letter writing campaign to lobby the government for more mental health services for women and children.

'My inbox is filled on a daily basis with women who are struggling to survive'

Sarah Stewart-Clark co-founded the group Island Mothers Helping Mothers three years ago. (CBC)

A woman from P.E.I. is organizing a letter writing campaign to lobby the government for more mental health services for women and children.

It's not potatoes, it's not tourism, it's not bioscience that I consider to be our most important resource on Prince Edward Island. It's our next generation.- Sarah Stewart-Clark

Sarah Stewart-Clark is one of the co-founders of a Facebook group called Island Mothers Helping Mothers, which connects mothers who need support with others in the community.

Over the three years she's been running the group, Stewart-Clark has heard from hundreds of women who have mental health issues and are struggling to find help.

"My inbox is filled on a daily basis with women who are struggling to survive," said Stewart-Clark, who grew up on P.E.I. but is now a professor in Halifax.

'A unique perspective'

"I have a unique perspective having worked with 4,000 families and that has allowed me to see some trends that I find alarming," said Stewart-Clark.

"Once you meet individual people who are struggling with these issues, you can't walk away from them because they're now like your family."

'Never properly treated'

Most disturbing, said Stewart-Clark, are the stories of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault.

"We have a really serious issue of child abuse and we're not addressing it," she said.

"Often those children go untreated and they grow up into, in some cases, women who now have mental health issues because they were never properly treated."

She also hears from mothers with post-partum depression.

Prompted by personal experience

Stewart-Clark decided to start the letter writing campaign after the issue became personal for her, as she tried to help a friend who was sexually assaulted find help in rural Prince Edward Island.

"I called all the numbers that the province lists on their family violence prevention website and what I learned is that calling those numbers essentially puts you on a three to six month wait list to see professionals for counselling depending on where you live in the province," said Stewart-Clark.

Island Mothers Helping Mothers supports mothers by connecting with them a community of support. (Submitted by Sarah Stewart-Clark)

"If you're a low income mom who doesn't have transportation or the funds to go to Charlottetown, you're waiting three to six months after a sexual assault which is quite a traumatic experience."

When asked about wait times for victims of sexual assault in May 2016, Health PEI told CBC, "wait lists vary from location to location across the province and how long a person may be waiting to seek counselling also varies."

Many similar stories

Stewart-Clark hears many similar stories from members of the group.

"I've seen women who were working, who were supporting their families, who were in a very positive place, lose their employment, lose their mental health because they were not treated for sexual assaults in a timely fashion."

Stewart-Clark wrote a letter in late January to Premier Wade MacLauchlan, talking about what she has heard over the last three years when it comes to barriers to mental health services.

"I would like to see services for women and children be appropriately funded in our province."

'We cannot afford to ignore this any longer'

She has also been speaking to other P.E.I. politicians about the issue and that led to the letter writing campaign.

Stewart-Clark hopes sharing the stories will make a difference.

"We cannot afford to ignore this any longer because it's affecting the next generation of Islanders," she said.

"It's not potatoes, it's not tourism, it's not bioscience that I consider to be our most important resource on Prince Edward Island, it's our next generation."

Stewart-Clark said anyone who wants to share their story can contact her at islandmothershelpingmothers@outlook.com.

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