Time to open up about maternal mental health
Mothers get together to raise awareness of the dangers of postpartum depression
It’s been 11 years since the birth of her daughter, but Elita Paterson vividly recalls struggling with frightening fits of rage, despair and anxiety at what should have been a happy time.
“I just felt out of control,” Paterson said. “I just didn’t feel as though I had enough supports or people understanding.”
The first-time mother felt a looming sense of failure. Intense anxiety, paranoia, anger and embarrassment followed. Many times after Ella’s birth in 2006, Paterson felt dangerously close to the edge.
For two years she suffered with postpartum anxiety until she met Tania Bird and Carla O’Reilly, two moms who experienced postpartum psychosis. The three women wrote a book, The Smiling Mask: Truths about Postpartum Depression and Parenthood.
“Once we started writing, there was a huge learning curve about mood and anxiety disorders — that’s what we need to call them. We can’t call them postpartum depression any more because it’s so much more than depression,” Paterson said. “It’s also (obsessive compulsive disorder) and psychosis.”
Maternal mental health services have improved in the province in the past decade, but Paterson is passionate about bringing about more progress.
She’s the public representative on the Saskatchewan Maternal Mental Health Implementation Committee, which is chaired by Angela Bowen — a professor with the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan — and includes medical professionals from the province’s health regions.
“We do work with the government and there has been progress in taking care of our moms, but our main focus was always to have prenatal screening for depression and anxiety for our pregnant moms,” Paterson said.
Almost two years ago, she began a petition asking the provincial government to add a screening tool called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (PDS) and Care Guide to the provincial prenatal checklist so doctors and obstetricians can identify pregnant women at risk of depression and anxiety by asking them 10 questions.
“It hasn’t come to be yet,” Paterson said.
Currently, more than 1,600 supporters have signed the petition.
Paterson says there’s not enough education and awareness about maternal mental health, so her latest venture is organizing a fundraising dinner on Nov. 2. Proceeds will go toward a maternal mental health conference to be held in Regina in May.
The conference will be open to everyone in the community — health-care providers, government officials, educators, students, mothers, partners, family and friends.
Paterson hopes the conference will raise awareness about maternal wellness. She wants people talking about the next steps in banishing the stigma of mental health issues in mothers during pregnancy and postpartum, one year after the baby is born.
Over the summer, she and Coralie Voth mused about going out for dinner at a Regina restaurant where they could listen to live music. Before long, the idea of a fundraising dinner was born.
“Coralie said, ‘Why don’t we do it for the women you are advocating for, Elita?’ I just thought that was pretty amazing,” Paterson said.
Voth, owner of Viva Optical, is one of the sponsors for the fundraising dinner.
“Mental health issues are really important,” she said. “Elita has talked about maternal mental health and that’s something that isn’t really talked about, but it’s there ... You hear about young women struggling and I can’t imagine feeling that alone. You need someone to help you through it.”
With the assistance of Basilis and Dena Haritos and Niki Charitou of Luna Kitchen & Bar, the four-course dinner will be held at the Quance Street restaurant, with homegrown jazz crooner Drew Tofin and his four-piece band providing live entertainment.
Elita Paterson, left, and Coralie Voth are planning a fundraising dinner in November for a conference on maternal mental health.