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New website aims to offer resources to postpartum depression sufferers

Tiffany who had an acute case of postpartum depression holds up her six-month-old daughter at her home in Vancouver December 13, 2004.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

After what should have been one of the most joyous moments of her life – the birth of her first child – Nellie Kennedy remembers feeling nothing but an overwhelming sense of numbness and exhaustion.

Assuming, like most young mothers, that her lack of interest in her baby boy was due to the physical rigours of childbirth, the Winnipeg native figured she'd "snap out of it" once she got some sleep.

But after she was discharged, sleep didn't come, extreme anxiety set in, and hour-long crying jags became the norm. "One day I could not get out of bed. I called emergency and spent five weeks in the hospital," she recalls.

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Kennedy, now 37 and the mother of two, is one of the about 13 per cent of Canadian moms who suffer from a debilitating form of pre- and postnatal depression, which too often goes undiagnosed or is caught too late. Frustrated by the lack of resources readily available to her, Kennedy started the Postpartum Depression Association of Winnipeg, which earlier this week launched a website to give PPD sufferers a comprehensive road map of services and treatments to combat this illness.

Her goal, she said in an interview, is to help prevent senseless tragedies such as that of Winnipeg native Lisa Gibson (who battled PPD), whose body was found in a river a few days after her two children were discovered drowned in their home last July.

Tara Brousseau Snider, executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, praised the website as a great new resource for struggling young mothers. But she added the issue of pre- and postpartum depression is far bigger than just Winnipeg. "It's a cross-country issue and we need to get more information out to the public at large," she said.

In a separate report from the University of Alberta last week, faculty of nursing researcher Dawn Kingston polled 1,200 Albertans and found 63 per cent support mental-health screening during pregnancy, while 73 per cent of Albertans favour mental-health screening after a new mother has given birth.

In an interview, Kingston said Alberta – and every other province and territory in Canada – should advocate for and offer universal prenatal and postnatal screening for depression and stress, a practice she praises for being aggressively pursued in Australia.

"Historically, studies have focused on depression occurring during the postpartum period. Now there is a shift, thankfully, to mental-health screening needing to be done across the whole pre- and postnatal spectrum. We believe intervening, screening and treating women in the postpartum period is really too little, too late," said Kingston, adding mental-health screening for pregnant women should occur every trimester.

"Screening, itself, is not a treatment, but a way of getting women help and moving them into care," said Kingston.

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Kennedy was 32 the first time postpartum depression hit.

:"I … thought I was just tired and exhausted. But my husband remembers looking at me in the hospital and thinking I looked grey and disconnected. I got home, and then it got really bad. I couldn't cope. I couldn't function. I felt like I had ten shots of adrenalin in my body all the time. I was literally vibrating," she recalls.

Luckily, Kennedy's family and friends supported her until she could "start feeling like myself again." Her husband took unpaid leave and his mother moved in to help.

"There are a lot of reasons why I started this group and the website, but primarily I did it because initially I felt lost. There needs to be more resources for people like me. More education for people like my husband," said Kennedy. Soon, her maternity leave will end and she'll return to her job as a community service employee, working with adults with intellectual disabilities. She believes she was one of the lucky ones.

Editor's note: This article included an incorrect name for a public health group. It is the Postpartum Association of Manitoba, not of Winnipeg as published. This version has been corrected.

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