Fighting the postpartum blues

Fighting the postpartum blues

July 21, 2010

You’ve just had a baby. You’re depressed. You see your doctor, who offers you medication or refers you to a psychologist. Your health plan covers neither. You’d rather avoid drugs anyway, and it can take six months to get counselling in some regions.

Such are the obstacles preventing at least half of women suffering postpartum depression from getting the help they need. The condition is disturbingly common — one in seven mothers shows symptoms — and it frequently leads to inconsistent caregiving habits and marital strain, both of which can profoundly affect children’s behaviour and development. 

Nicole Letourneau, a research fellow at the University of New Brunswick’s Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy, set out to solve the problem by asking a simple question: what’s accessible and cheap that could help these women, even in rural areas? Two answers emerged: other mothers to talk to and their partners. “Fathers are a huge untapped resource,” she says.

An earlier study revealed that fathers want to support their partners but feel helpless and uninformed. “They’re sitting right there, and no one is saying, ‘Here are some things you can do to help.’ Or even, ‘How are you doing?’”

With the help of a nationwide advisory committee, Letourneau is interviewing 90 fathers, asking them about the kind of help they need — as she did with mothers. She says the results they get will help her team create useful resources for fathers.

In the meantime, Letourneau’s research on mothers is paying off. New mothers in New Brunswick will soon have a number they can call to speak with someone else who has suffered — and overcome — postpartum blues.