SUDBURY -- Mercedes Clouthier said she started the group Sudbury Mom Hangouts on Facebook so she could meet and connect with other mothers.

What started out as a group of 20 people has now grown to over 500 members.

Clouthier is a mother of two. Her stepdaughter Lexi is four and she had her son, Max, 8 months ago. Having a child during a pandemic has been anything but easy.

"Everybody expects you to be happy and so blessed because you have babies because not all women get to experience that, but they don’t realize in reality that many women are in a discouraging place and they don’t know where or who to turn to and that is why the group was created," Clouthier said.

A study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found mental health visits by new mothers in Ontario increased 30 per cent during the pandemic compared to previous years, with a noticeable bump occurring within the first three months after giving birth. Clouthier said she isn’t surprised at all by those numbers and it’s a topic that is not talked about enough.

According to the study,  postpartum mental illness affects as many as one in five mothers and it said during the pandemic,  people have had difficulty accessing extended postpartum support networks and community programs that protect against mental illness including:

  • home visits from public health nurses
  • breastfeeding clinics
  • support groups

Officials at the hospital in Sudbury want the community to know that the perinatal mental health program remains open and available.

"The Perinatal Mental Health Program at Health Sciences North (HSN) provides mental health services for new mothers experiencing depression and anxiety from 28-weeks of pregnancy up to 12 months after the baby is born.  There have been 84 referrals to this program in 2020/2021 compared with 74 in 2019/2020. Mothers can self-refer to this program or can be referred through their family doctor, midwife, obstetrician, or from a community agency or mental health professional. New mothers can also access external support programs in the community through Public Health Sudbury and Districts, the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre and NISA, the Northern Initiative for Social Action," said Jason Turnbull, communications manager at HSN.

The CMAJ study looked at 137,609 postpartum mental health visits to both family physicians and psychiatrists in Ontario from March through November 2020, with researchers collecting data on age, the number of children, neighbourhood income and ethnic diversity, and region of residence.

Read the study in its entirety