For the past eight years, the #BellLetsTalk social media campaign has aimed to spark discussion around mental health issues and raise funds for Canadian mental health initiatives. But this year, a group of moms and maternal mental health advocates launched their own spin-off protest hashtag: #BellLetsTalkMaternalMentalHealth.
They're concerned that mothers are being left out of the conversation, even though perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are the second leading cause of death in postpartum women.
"Each year Bell Lets Talk features stories of people with mental health challenges," says Life With a Baby peer support group founder, Claire Kerr-Zlobin. "There has never been the inclusion of someone with a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD)."
After the birth of her daughter in 2007, Kerr-Zobin was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, and came to understand firsthand how little support there was out there for new mothers. "Moms with symptoms are often told that they should be happy that they just had a baby, or that they don't have a real illness," she says. This prompted her to launch Life With a Baby and make sure other moms had a place to share their stories, advice and concerns, so they didn't have to feel alone.
And this year, she came together with fellow maternal health advocates Lisa Tremayne, Sara Beckel, Shannon Hennig and Patricia Tomasi to start a spontaneous social media campaign, #BellLetsTalkMaternalMentalHealth. They came up with the idea barely 24 hours before the #BellLetsTalk campaign day of January 31, yet their hashtag garnered over 5.9 million impressions on Twitter and Facebook, which speaks to the urgent need for more talk—and action—around maternal mental health.
Most of the statements shared under the rogue hashtag were from moms who felt like they didn't feel heard or who were being told that what they're feeling wasn't valid. With every retweet, tweet, Snapchat and Facebook filter and text, Bell Let's Talk donated 5 cents toward mental health initiatives.
However, fundraising wasn't Kerr-Zlobin's priority.
"We just want [Bell] to know what moms are saying," she says. "While the rest of the world feels more comfortable talking about mental health, Mothers are hiding and only feel like they can share in secret groups because of the stigma around postpartum depression."
So why the stigma? "Ultimately, moms are scared they'll have their baby taken away, if they talk about their mental health." Kerr-Zlobin says.
For the future, Kerr-Zlobin hopes to see a national prenatal screening program or strategy for maternal mental health in Canada so that all mothers can get the access to care they need. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year revealed that one in every 19 maternal deaths in Ontario is attributable to suicide. Kerr-Zlobin notes that while Australia, the UK, and the US all recommend perinatal depression screening, Canada does not. "This leaves the onus on women to come forward with symptoms," says the maternal mental health advocate.
In promising news, following the success of the #BellLetsTalkMaternalMentalHealth grassroots campaign, a representative from Bell Let's Talk has reached out to Kerr-Zlobin to set up a call and further the conversation.
Here are some Today's Parent resources and stories around maternal mental health. Please don't hesitate to talk with your doctor or midwife, if you feel like you're needing help with mood-related symptoms.
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6 ways to support a mother who has postpartum depression Postpartum depression can be very overwhelming and isolating. Here are six ways you can help someone who is going through it.
Parenting through severe postpartum depression Karen Bannister shares the powerful story of her downward spiral into postpartum depression.
Pregnancy is the eating disorder trigger that no one ever talks about The changes that occur during pregnancy and postpartum can make women feel like their bodies are out of control. That's when eating disorders creep in.
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