After my own experience with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression after the birth of my daughter, I became an advocate for Maternal Mental Health. In my journey, my main goal has been to help in pushing the need for a national strategy for mothers which includes screening, referral pathways and treatment options.
To this end, I participated in the 2018 Great Canadian Health Care Debate through the College of Health Leaders and the National Health Leaders Conference. My brief for Maternal Mental Health was in the top 8 and can be found here.
It was at the National Health Leaders conference that I met with a few coaches and strategists who pointed me in the direction of the National Health Minister’s Meeting which is when all the health ministers from the Provinces and Territories get together each year. Because Maternal Mental Health falls under the Provincial umbrella, our best chance of getting a national strategy for maternal mental health is getting it in front of all the health ministers at the same time.
With a strategy in hand, I connected with some other advocates in Saskatchewan and asked to go together to meet with one of the health ministers in the province because the work Saskatchewan is doing for mothers is incredible and can be used as a model across the country.
It was in August of 2018 that we met with the Honourable Greg Ottenbreit Minister of Rural and Remote Health and asked him to become a champion for change. We met on behalf of the Perinatal Mental Health Coalition Canada which is a grassroots group made up of over 150 advocates across Canada.
A letter was drafted and sent for a request for Maternal Mental Health to be added to the National Health Ministers’ Meeting for 2019. We are grateful for the opportunity to have submitted a letter on behalf of Canadian mothers.
This Bell Let’s Talk Day, I wanted to bring awareness to both the work that is happening in Saskatchewan and also to someone who is championing this important cause in his province. We submitted some questions for an interview with Minister Ottenbreit and his responses are below. Every champion for Maternal Mental Health Matters. I hope we’ll be able to have one in every province.
In conversation with the Honourable Greg Ottenbreit Minister of Rural and Remote Health
Maternal Mental Health isn’t part of the mandate of any major Canadian mental health institution – what compelled you to become a champion for change?
Mental health, including maternal mental health, is an important issue to the residents of Saskatchewan, to our government, and to me personally. We know that 1 in 5 women in Saskatchewan experience either depression and/or anxiety during their pregnancy, or for up to one year after. We also know that there is always more work to do to help improve mental health supports for Saskatchewan residents. As part of our 10-Year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan highlights, maternal mental health was identified as an important determinant of future child and family mental and physical health and well-being. That is why our government continues to support ongoing efforts in this area.
As a husband, father, and recent grandfather, I also personally know the importance of having supports in place for parents, especially mothers, during and after their pregnancy. For these reasons, that is why I am proud of our government’s efforts in this area, which includes such initiatives as the Maternal Wellness Program as part of our HealthLine 811 service or Universal screening of pregnant and postpartum women using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, in helping improve overall maternal mental health and wellbeing.
Advocates stress the importance of having political allies to champion maternal mental health. What advice can you share for those wanting to raise awareness and engage elected officials in their local jurisdiction or province?
It is important to remain positive, committed, and passionate about the issue of maternal mental health. Sometimes, issues such as maternal mental health may not be on the radar of elected officials, and groups that help advocate for improved maternal mental health services can help improve awareness.
Prescreening for PMAD via the eHealth platform is groundbreaking as the first of its kind in Canada. Tell us more about how it came about and expected outcomes.
We will soon have two ways we screen expectant and new mothers who are at risk of developing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder to ensure they get the support they need and referrals to services if appropriate.
HealthLine 811 launched the Maternal Wellness Program in 2013. This program provides easier access to help for women who struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety, or feelings of loss following a miscarriage, stillbirth or death of a newborn.
In addition, we are in the process of updating the Saskatchewan Prenatal Record Form, which is used by medical practitioners to monitor a woman’s pregnancy, ensuring best care practices in diagnostic tests, monitoring and assessment. The form accompanies a woman to her labour and delivery. It also links the prenatal information to intrapartum and postpartum care for health care providers.
The new form will prompt medical practitioners to complete the “Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale” (EPDS) twice over the course of the pregnancy. As well, the accompanying Care Guide to the EPDS assists health practitioners in supporting pregnant women through appropriate referrals and interventions. Integrating the EPDS & Care Guide into the prenatal care process will ensure pregnant women in Saskatchewan are screened for depression and anxiety with appropriate referrals as required.
You’ve met with a number of advocates for maternal mental health. Is there a particular account of lived experience that resonated with you?
It’s tough to single out just one. The experiences that have been shared with me are all unique and different, but each of them speak to the need to continuing to work and improve maternal mental health services and supports.
What do you envision as the future of maternal mental health in Saskatchewan and in Canada?
As more jurisdictions and governments become increasingly aware of the need to improve mental health services, including our own, I believe you’ll see improvements in the care received from healthcare providers, but also in the level of supports provided. Services such as our Maternal Wellness Program are important tools to help those who may be suffering, especially in rural and remote areas, but increasing awareness will also help reduce the stigma, and hopefully lead to improvements in overall care.
What are some ways you practice self-care and foster mental wellness in your own life?
Trying to strike a healthy balance is difficult, but it is something I try to do. Self-care including regular exercise, a somewhat balanced diet, and taking care of your own mental wellness are important for everyone to practice, especially for someone involved in a stressful occupation, like being a politician! My strong Christian faith acts as a foundation for me to helping achieve these goals. Healthy, positive relationships, whether through faith, family, or friends, also help me in maintaining positive self-care and mental wellness. These pillars have helped me personally get through many difficult times in my life, whether those are the loss of our son to cancer, or my own cancer journey. My wife and I also founded, Brayden Ottenbreit Close Cuts for Cancer, which we founded shortly after our son was diagnosed in 1998. We continue with that work as well today, having raised over $800,000 for various local cancer initiatives.
For me, it’s also important to have hobbies and interests that I’m passionate about. As one might expect, I am a political junkie, but I’m also a licensed pilot, and as my Twitter profile states, am a certified gear-head regardless if it rolls, floats, or flies! I find that having hobbies and interests are important in striking a healthy balance, and help me in practicing positive self-care and mental wellness.
Thank you Minister Ottenbreit for your willingness to be a champion for mothers.