For Julie, taking care of her mental health wasn’t only necessary for her own well-being, it was also vitally important to the health of her entire family.
When Julie’s second son Oliver was born, despite not having a prenatal diagnosis, she immediately knew he had Down Syndrome. What she didn’t know when he was rushed to the NICU hours after his birth was that he also had two holes in his heart that would require open heart surgery nine months later. For the first few months of Oliver’s life, Julie was terrified of what his future would look like and was devastated for her family.
That first night, between frequent trips to the NICU from her labour and delivery room, Julie frantically searched the internet for information about the medical complications from Down Syndrome that she knew nothing about – learning about decreased life expectancy and the challenges her son would face, wondering what the impact would be on her eldest child, and her young family’s future.
“I spent hours speaking with doctors and specialists, and then scouring Google for answers, trying to figure out what this would mean for my son and for my family,” she says. “It was a very scary time and I could feel myself falling deeper into a very dark hole. I knew pretty quickly that I needed help for me, too, if I was going to be able to help Oliver.”
Having been a patient of the Women’s Mental Health Program at Women’s College Hospital before the birth of her first son three years prior, Julie reached out to the Reproductive Life Stages Program for help. She quickly received an appointment with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with postpartum depression.
Over the next year, Oliver experienced many health complications and was in and out of hospital with countless appointments with physicians, specialists and therapists. During that time, Julie received regular counselling and support from her care team, where she found the resources and tools she needed to keep moving forward with strength and resilience for herself and her son.
“There were times where I felt so overwhelmed and alone, and like it was all too much to handle,” she says. “I remember after one particularly emotional session, throwing a balled up tissue soaked with tears into the trash bin. When I looked down into the bin, it was overflowing with tissues from other women who had been there, too. As strange as it sounds, it was one of those moments that helped me realize I wasn’t alone.”
The Women’s Mental Health Program provides over 20,000 patient visits per year for patients like Julie who are in need of support and care for a wide range of specialty mental health conditions including trauma and abuse; reproductive life stages (including an online patient decision tool to help pregnant and pregnancy planning women with depression make decsions about the best treatment for them during pregnancy); medical psychiatry; refugee mental health, and more.
Dr Simone Vigod, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital, says that reaching women who are suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety and other mental health issues is vitally important to not only their own health, but the health of their entire families.
“Postpartum depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorder and other psychiatric illnesses are medical problems that need professional treatment, just like any other medical condition,” says Dr. Vigod. “Research shows that when moms receive the care and support they need to keep themselves healthy and well, their children experience better health outcomes, too. By focusing on a mother’s mental health during the vitally important transition period into motherhood, we are helping to create a strong and healthy foundation for the entire family.”
Julie continued to access care and services throughout the first 18 months of Oliver’s life and was very grateful to have the ongoing support. “My team helped me navigate everything from feelings of grief and loss, to developing coping mechanisms for when Oliver’s medical challenges were particularly scary and they were there for me as I transitioned back to work, too. With their support, I was able to regain my sense of self, and my self-esteem.”
Julie says one of the biggest impacts her care and treatment has had on her life was helping her regain the courage and confidence to get pregnant again. “A huge part of going through postpartum depression for me was feeling like everything was out of control. But, thanks to the incredible support I received, I now have the strength and confidence to know that I do have power and control over my life and decisions,” she says.
“With our next little one due in January, I couldn’t be more excited and hopeful for what the future holds for our family.”