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Maternal mental health sees decline in Alberta: report

CALGARY (CityNews) — Maternal mental health in Alberta is declining due to COVID-19 according to a recent report from the University of Calgary.

Many moms don’t need to be told that this is happening, as they are living it, with symptoms of anxiety and depression in mothers nearly doubling last year in the province.

“I had my baby during COVID times and just generally, it was an isolating experience,” said mother Rosheen Hayat. “From the pregnancy to the birth, to taking care of the baby, postpartum, it felt like I had boiled down to only myself. I had no access to any emotional help or physical help, apart from my husband and he was working.

I used to sleep in late, I used to cry all the time, I used to have resentful feeling towards the people I loved because I felt they weren’t helping me enough.”

There are hundreds of women like Hayat, who are going through a mental health crisis in the province.

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Recently, the University of Calgary released their research looking at nearly 3,000 Alberta mothers and their children over the last 12 years to understand their mental health and well-being, before and during the pandemic.

Results showed some worrying trends.

“For depression, we saw a jump from 19 per cent to about 35 per cent, and for anxiety, 18 per cent to 31 per cent and these elevations were most significant in women who had lost childcare or were having difficulty balancing multiple roles in the home, including balancing homeschooling as well as in families, where there has been a disruption to their income,” said  Dr. Nicole Racine, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Psychology at the U of C.

Researchers say COVID-19 has changed family life but women are still shouldering the majority of the burden — contributing to rising mental health challenges.

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“I was going through a severe phase of depression and I didn’t even realize it,” said Hayat. “None of the health practitioners or people around me realized it, but it could also have something to do with COVID times because I don’t have access to people. I am having online counselling now because I reached out to a group but I miss that physical connection that I would have had with people or with mothers who are going through the same thing.”

Health researchers suggest increased mental health support for mothers, flexible employment policies and universal access to affordable childcare and education, as some of the ways maternal health can be improved in Alberta.