Mental Health IS Health: Supporting Mothers

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“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

-Sophia Loren


Becoming a parent is one of the most momentous experiences one can have. It’s a moment so many people dream of with anticipation and longing. Brainstorming names, picking out nursery colours, finding the perfect little onesies, carriers and accoutrements for the blessed moment their child arrives — it’s all part of the build-up for the greatest change a person can experience. From lifestyle to resources to personal identity, welcoming a child into a family transforms so much. As wonderful as it is, it can also be very stressful and difficult to manage, especially for single mothers. On World Maternal Mental Health Day on May 1st, and throughout the year, advocates want everyone to better understand the unique mental health challenges faced by mothers and child-bearing people so that they can better access resources and support.

No longer just responsible for oneself, a parent’s mental preoccupation doubles to consider, care for and watch over their little ones. Undoubtedly, that’s a massive adjustment that can be impactful for a parent’s mental health. In Canada, 7.5% of mothers experience depressive symptoms in the postpartum period. For women who experience physical or sexual abuse, the rate skyrockets to 23%. Women with a history of depression who have experienced physical or sexual violence are even more at risk.

For most, postpartum mental health symptoms dissipate over time, but if left untreated, they can carry on. And while postpartum depression is the mental health issue we most commonly associate with becoming a mom, research from the University of British Columbia suggests that “severe anxiety is three to four times more common than depression during pregnancy and early motherhood.” These numbers tell us that many women are struggling to adapt to motherhood and it doesn’t stop there — the ongoing emotional and physical workload of motherhood can be very influential on mental health. This is especially true for those who lack additional adult support in the household. It’s hard to get a clear picture of just how many mothers struggle with their mental health, as 70% of women minimize or deny their symptoms altogether. That’s not too surprising. After all, women’s mental health is highly stigmatized and mothers feel immense pressure to hold it all together for their families.

Given what we do know about mothers’ mental health, it’s no wonder advocates are pushing for the incorporation of perinatal depression screening in Canada. As it stands, women must come forward with their mental health symptoms on their own in order to access treatment and resources. That’s a huge barrier. Including screenings in regular perinatal appointments would go a long way towards reducing stigma for mothers struggling with their mental health and providing adequate treatment. Such screenings are already happening in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, showing promising results as fewer struggling women fall through the cracks. Paired with greater access to support resources, perinatal mental health screening would lift mothers up, improving quality of life for them and their children.

World Maternal Mental Health Day shone a light on the fact that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders impact women around the globe, regardless of age, cultural background, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or race. It’s important to keep in mind that non-binary folks and transgender men may also experience these mental health challenges and mustn’t be left out of the conversation.  With so many feeling the effects of this, there needs to be greater awareness and dialogue about mental health for people who bear children. And mental health should fall under the umbrella of healthcare for everyone, including people who are pregnant or are new parents.

Each and every one of us is connected, and when one person suffers, that suffering can ripple through an entire community. When we let people struggling with mental illness go unnoticed and untreated, we fail our communities.

On an individual level, we can check in with the mothers we know and offer support or a safe place to discuss their challenges; we can offer babysitting, meal prep, or help around the house to give them a break from the great workload that falls on mothers’ shoulders; we can send resources and  articles that might help them feel less alone in what they’re experiencing; if we have the capacity, we can help them cover the costs of therapy when they’re struggling; we can find ways big and small to show them they are supported and loved by those around them.

On a community level, we can all raise our voices to push for greater access to mental healthcare for all, especially mothers and parents. What is most essential for a child’s development is a safe and stable home life, and that demands us to support parents and guardians by helping them gain access to essential screening treatment for mental illness.

Coercive Control: 7 Red Flags To Remember

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Coercive control is defined as a pattern of behaviour where an abuser dominates, humiliates, and isolates their victim. It’s a central characteristic of abusive relationships that strips the victimized person of their sense of self and freedom. This pattern of behaviour doesn’t always involve physical violence; still, it’s designed to inject fear and create invisible chains linking a victim to their abuser. Recognizing the signs of coercive control can help someone spot abuse early, before the relationship becomes too intertwined and difficult to escape from.  Here are 7 red flags to remember:

  1. Isolation from friends and family: This can be slow and subtle. What does this look like? An abuser will insist on being present when their partner visits friends and family. They will guilt their partner for expressing an interest in spending time with others and will often show disdain for the other people in their partner’s life. The abuser will compete for their partner’s attention and insist on being a priority at the expense of other relationships.
  1. Exerting financial control: Financial abuse is a particularly powerful form of abuse that comes into play when the abuser is the sole or primary income earner and the victim is financially dependent on them. An abuser will restrict their partner’s access to money, requiring the victim to ask permission to spend money. They will hold the fact that they make more money over the victim. They will also scrutinize the victim’s bills and banking activity.
  1. Humiliating/degrading behaviour: This cracks away at a victim’s self-esteem. An abuser will call their partner names and bully them. They will humiliate their partner and put them down in front of others and they will use their partner’s insecurities against them.
  1. Invading their partner’s privacy: Having private thoughts and spaces is important for a person’s sense of self. It’s normal for partners to share thoughts and feelings, but one should never be made to feel unworthy of privacy in a relationship. An abuser will demand that their partner disclose account passwords and show them text messages and emails. They will make their partner feel unentitled to physical privacy at home or outside the home.

  1. Controlling everyday activities: We take for granted the number of decisions we make on an everyday basis. An abuser will control things such as what their partner wears, where they go, what they eat, when they sleep, when they shower, and more. These can all be instances of coercive behaviour in a relationship.
  1. Making threats: An abuser can use threats or intimidation to control their partner’s behaviour. A huge red flag in an abusive relationship is if one person fears for their safety or wellbeing at the hands of their partner.
  1. Destruction of possessions and property: This could be destruction or threat of destruction of items that hold sentimental value. An abuser can also destroy or threaten to destroy possessions that connect their partner to support systems such as phones, computers, and modes of transportation. Lack of respect for their partner’s property is a lack of respect for their partner.

Coercive control is a system of behaviours that can change and grow. Abusers will use manipulation tactics and gaslighting to keep their victims from leaving or reaching out for help. When assessing your own relationships or the relationships of people you care about, trust your gut. No one should feel like they need to break their personal boundaries of comfort and security in a relationship. If you aren’t sure whether you are being abused you can call the Interval House crisis line (1-888-293-5516) for 24-hour advice and support, or find other helpful resources here.

Not Always Happily Ever After

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Before her wedding day, a bride-to-be imagines the moment she’s dreamed about. She pores over photos and gathers ideas. She diligently makes to-do lists, crossing items off with satisfaction. Flower arrangements. Seating plan. Dress fittings. She places items on a registry—everything she’ll need for her new life.

Tragically, at some point after the big day, the bride discovers she is trapped in a cycle of violence and finds herself desperately making a list she never imagined. Escape plan. Untraceable cell phone. Emergency shelterRead More

The Broken Bride Registry: not every bride lives happily ever after.

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Wedding Vision

The Dream: A romantic proposal, the perfect dress, floral arrangements, a beautiful home and happily ever after.

The Reality: For some women, their wedding day marks an escalation of abuse. Interval House, Canada’s first shelter for abused women and their children, provides a safe space for women and children and helps them rebuild their lives, free from violence.

A Registry No Bride Should Need

The sad reality is that many women report that abuse escalates as soon as they get married. In this symbolic registry, we imagine the items that a woman trapped in violence might need. Read More

From Impossible to Infinity: Anna’s Story

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Anna* didn’t know what to expect when she walked into Interval House the night her husband’s violence became unbearable.

She’d escaped her house—a place that no longer felt like home—where she had locked herself in a room, climbed out of a window, and ran.

Anna’s husband had been chasing her with a knife, swearing he would kill her. It was the most terrifying event in his escalating violence since their move to Canada. Read More

Q&A with Elona Nazaj, Women’s Counsellor/Advocate

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Your support ensures counsellors like Elona are available 24/7 to women and children in need.

Q: How does your day begin?

A: It depends which shift I’m on, morning, evening, or overnight. All shifts begin with a shift change debrief with other staff. We talk about how things are going, if anything urgent is coming up, new residents, or if anyone has left the shelter. I can then start prioritizing my day based on risk assessments.

Q: How would you describe your job? 

A: The biggest part of my job is active listening, being available for women to vent, cry, share their frustrations or successes. I find out what their needs are and help connect them to services we can provide. I do a lot of advocacy, especially for housing, legal issues such as custody, or for women who do not speak English. We are there for them, every step of the way.

Q: What are the first few days like for women who come to Interval House? 

A: The first few days in the shelter are the hardest because usually women are coming with a very high level of anxiety and stress, which is very understandable. They are confused. They wonder if they made the right choice. But with time, everything becomes more clear and they are able to see things in a different perspective. They find the strength to move forward.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

A: I am honoured when I know that these women are allowing me to be part of their feelings. The way that I can see the positive effect I’m having on my community, along with my coworkers. Just the connection, the empathy that we create with each other, that’s rewarding. The women talk about their frustrations, they talk about their lives, they talk about what they went through, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to trust. I really appreciate it.

Life at the House: A Youth Perspective by David

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*name and identifying details have been changed for the safety of the clients

If I were to say what impact living at Interval House had on me, I guess I see it as a good Disney story. Things start out nice and everything, and then snap, there’s a plot twist and the evil entity comes and that’s where my family is at right now. Eventually it’s all going to be good again.

My mom left Vietnam for Canada in search of a better life for us. A few months later, my dad, my two younger siblings and me all came to join her. They were always working, mom all day and dad all night. We only hung out as a family on weekends. For years, they hid their fighting from us. But the fights increased and then the secrets just poured out. It used to be like once a month then it became weekly. At one point I had to step in. I didn’t want to but it was getting out of hand and I had to get the police involved.

A few months ago we had to just get out — grab what we had and go. That’s when we came to Interval House. Being here affects us but it didn’t devastate us. We’re all far away from the people we know now though. My siblings miss their friends and my mom had to quit one of her jobs.

Our family has become closer since coming here. We interact with each other more. My mom actually gets more rest here. Everyone is getting something out of the sessions with the counsellors. We’re all getting advice and steps for how to get up and get things back together. Feeling empowered.

I’m studying at college now and the next stage is to have our own place again. Interval House supports you at your lowest; they’ll always be that safety net. But it’s better to pick yourself up again, find a job, find a place, just do something that’s going to help you to start over again. It’s like the new Karate Kid movie where he says, “Everyone falls down, but it’s up to them whether they choose to get back up or not.” Interval House can help you get there.

Thank you for helping families like David’s rebuild their lives!

Beanie Babies for the Brave: How one mother and daughter are making a difference

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How can a little stuffed animal help women and children rebuild their lives after abuse? By being auctioned off and having the proceeds directed to Interval House! That’s what Beanie Babies for the Brave is all about.

Morgan and her daughter, Stacey, have been collecting Beanie Babies since Stacey was just five years old. Now 31, Stacey decided it was time to part with her beloved collection and donate it to Interval House, so the organization could sell the classic toys and raise funds for their programs helping women and children recovering from abuse.

“Stacey and I both agreed that we would rather give them to a child or to an organization that helps people instead of selling them online for ourselves,” explains Morgan. The thoughtful mother-daughter duo donated 70 Beanie Babies in their original packaging to be auctioned online with 100% of the proceeds benefitting Interval House.

“When I was trying to find a place to donate the Beanie Babies to, it was important to me personally that it benefit women and children experiencing abuse,” explains Morgan. “I am a survivor of abuse and I understand how important a place like Interval House is.”

Do you have your own idea for a unique fundraiser or gift-in-kind donation? Contact Cass Nagar at 416-924-1411 ext. 238

Behind the Scenes at the Interval House Renovation — See how your gifts helped transform the shelter!

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The first thing most people notice when they walk into the newly renovated rooms at Interval House is how bright and cheery everything feels. Your support helped transform the shelter’s 12 residential bedrooms and six bathrooms, including the main floor accessible suite.

“This renovation is something I’ve been wanting to do since I first started working here three years ago,” explains Cathy Leekam, Facilities Manager. “The shelter is used by so many people and it was getting really run down, especially the bathrooms. It’s hugely satisfying to see them freshened up, and how happy the residents are with it.”

Thanks to donor support, Cathy’s team recently completed the 3 month renovation project. Bedrooms were refreshed and bathrooms updated with new sinks, vanities and fixtures. The team also changed out flooring, added new window blinds and put on a fresh coat of paint. It was so important to bring the aging infrastructure up to date.

“What I’ve always heard from clients is that our shelter is very welcoming and warm,” says Cathy. “It’s nice that the bedrooms and kitchen are now part of that. Everything feels very fresh and welcoming, like a home.”

“Working at Interval House has been one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. You can see the direct result that your work makes. It’s a concrete change you make in people’s lives every day.”


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