“Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression and anxiety, yet three times more likely to experience barriers to accessing mental healthcare,” explained Dr Simone Vigod during a session entitled Healthy Moms, Healthy Families – Breaking Down Barriers to Maternal Mental Healthcare at the Ismaili Centre Toronto in early February. 

Vigod serves as chief of the department of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and as an associate professor at the University of Toronto. 

During the session, hosted in partnership with the Women’s College Hospital Foundation, Vigod explained that the lack of access to mental healthcare comes from practical reasons such as cost and transportation challenges, while stigmas around mental health add barriers as well.

She discussed the unique set of challenges that becoming a new parent presents such as prenatal and postpartum depression. 

“It’s not that you feel sad for a minute or feel overwhelmed and then feel better,” said Vigod, explaining postpartum depression. “It sticks and it sticks and it won’t go away.”

Vigod cited a study from 2007 that stated seven percent of non-immigrant women experience postpartum depression, while the figure is 13 percent for immigrants. Possible reasons include social risk factors such as low income, partner violence, and inadequate support networks. 

During the moderated discussion, Vigod was joined by Greer Slyfield Cook, a social worker and therapist, and Marsha Gallingar, a social worker and parenting educator, both from Women’s College Hospital Foundation.

Cook offered some practical tips to support women during the postpartum period. 

“No one ever tells them they are doing a good job,” said Cook. She explained that simple gestures such as asking a new mother how she’s doing, offering to pick up groceries, making a meal, or taking the baby for a walk can have a positive impact.

Vigod shared some of the proactive steps Women’s College Hospital is taking to make care more accessible to women, especially during the critical postpartum period. These include practical tools such as online services, a mobile app, online chat groups, in-person groups, and a shortened triage process.

Vigod also shared some helpful questions that can help with detecting depression among new mothers. 

“Have you been feeling a low mood over the last couple of weeks?” Or, “Have you been feeling like you’re not yourself or not as interested in things?” 

If these questions are answered affirmative, following up by asking if you can help can go a long way, she concluded.