QUEEN'S PARK — On Thursday, the Ontario Legislature will debate NDP MPP Bhutila Karpoche's Bill 176, the Maternal Mental Health Act, which seeks to expand treatment, supports and awareness of perinatal mental health disorders.
If passed, Bill 176 requires the Minister of Health to review the state of Ontario's maternal mental health care and create a provincial framework for action. It would proclaim an annual Maternal Mental Health Day each May.
"In 2019, I rose in the legislature with my newborn and spoke about the challenges of postpartum mental health recovery that many new mothers experience," Karpoche said. "That statement went viral. Numerous moms and moms-to-be reached out and shared their experiences of struggling in silence, without access to postpartum care, without social supports.
"We leave new moms treading these difficult waters in isolation—yes, during the pandemic, but even before—with not only the assumption that we should be able to manage on our own, but the expectation that our experience is nothing but happiness."
Karpoche held a virtual press conference Wednesday joined by Melisa Bayon, Interim Executive Director of Progress Toronto and a mother, Candice Thomas, a new mom, business owner and therapist who gave birth during the pandemic — both shared their experiences of perinatal mental health challenges. Patricia Tomasi, Co-founder and Communications Director for the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collective, spoke to the importance of Bill 176 and the need for a national perinatal mental health strategy.
"Despite the prevalence, maternal mental health issues are overlooked in policy, government funding, in the health care system, in public discourse, at work, and even in our own homes," said Karpoche.
"Ontario is without a strategy or coordinated plan to tackle maternal mental health issues. We must change this."
Candice Thomas, therapist, business owner and mom of two from Barrie, Ont.:
“I’m not just struggling; I am barely surviving. I am just asking for a mental health care system that works so I can simply survive. Not just for me, but for my girls.
I will never forget pressing my hand against the 4th floor window in the maternity ward after delivering my daughter Ada. Looking down at my parents and my daughter in the parking lot. They were holding signs that said 'I LOVE YOU MOMMY.'"
Melisa Bayon, Interim Executive Director of Progress Toronto and mom:
"It was quite debilitating at times as I tried to navigate a stressful full-time job and morning sickness during the first trimester of my pregnancy. I became increasingly isolated and concerned for my well-being. I wasn’t sure what to do or where to turn to and frankly there were moments when I thought I might not make it.
If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that a strong public health care system is how we keep our communities healthy and robust. Moms need access to mental health support to be seen, to be recognized, to be loved."
Patricia Tomasi, Co-founder, and Communications Director for the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collective and a mom:
"Tens of thousands of Canadians are suffering from a perinatal mental illness, or postpartum depression. The pandemic has doubled these rates.
We hear every day how hard it is to navigate the health care system for help that doesn’t exist. I know this myself having gone through postpartum bipolar disorder twice. It took me eight years to be properly assessed and diagnosed.
95% of the health care providers surveyed said perinatal mental health services in Canada are insufficient. We give a lot of lip service to mental health but if we don’t start taking action where it really counts, at the beginning, in conception, we’re doomed to keep repeating the same cycle over and over.
Untreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can last years and affect not only the birthing person but the baby who then grows up to be a child with behavioural problems, an adolescent with anxiety and suicidal ideation, and an adult with chronic depression, diabetes, and heart disease.
We implore the Ontario government to pass Bill 176 and the federal government to enact a national perinatal mental health strategy."
**Link to press conference: https://youtu.be/RNYES-r3Pr4