On Monday, March 8, TRU celebrated International Women’s Day. This year’s International Women’s Day theme was, Choose to Challenge. TRU Student Life urged its social media following to honour all self-identified women on Monday and every day for that matter and suggested that students do so by calling out bias and inequality.
In keeping with this year’s theme, TRU faculty member Dr. Joyce O’Mahony offered the Omega a look at her just-published book chapter, Hearing the Voices of Immigrant and Refugee Women for Planning Postpartum Depression Care.
O’Mahony is an associate professor in the TRU School of Nursing. Her background as a community health nurse encouraged her to further explore immigrant women’s mental health care experiences in the postpartum period.
More than 54,000 Syrian refugees have resettled in Canada in response to the unprecedented global refugee crisis. Over 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in B.C. since 2015—three-quarters of those refugees being women and children.
O’Mahony states within the chapter’s introduction that “new immigrant and refugee women (IRW) are at risk to achieve less than optimal health outcomes following childbirth given the social, cultural, and language difficulties and socioeconomic factors that influence their postpartum experiences.”
Hearing the Voices of Immigrant and Refugee Women for Planning Postpartum Depression Care is part of a qualitative research project that explores how IRW seeks care to manage postpartum depression (PPD) in the community setting.
O’Mahony goes on to explain, “PPD affects 3 to 25 per cent of all new mothers globally, and therefore, is of significant public health importance.” And that “immigrant women in Canada have a higher prevalence of PPD than Canadian-born women.”
“PPD is a serious mental illness that has far-reaching implications for mothers, infants, and
families. There are significant associations between maternal depression and adverse child
behavioural and emotional outcomes.”
O’Mahoney proceeds by saying, “although the exact cause of PPD is uncertain, psychological and psychosocial factors can predispose some women to this mental illness… The strongest predictors of PPD included depression or anxiety during pregnancy, recent life stress, personal and family history of depression, poor quality of relationships, and lack of social support.”
Epidemiologic studies and meta-analyses consistently suggest that lack of friends or a close/confident partner, social isolation, and lack of perceived support from a primary social network may predispose immigrant women to PPD.
O’Mahoney went on to explain that studies reveal “many IRW who suffer serious mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and psychosis often do not receive the care they need.”
Further, “new immigrants are ten times more likely than Canadian-born individuals to identify barriers that prevent or interfere with access to services. Studies show that although IRW is at risk for poor health in the postpartum period, they have difficulty meeting their mental health needs even when health care is universally available.”
O’Mahoney added that “timely access to needed mental health services can be an issue for IRW because of language difficulties, lack of familiarity or unawareness of the existence of health services, poverty, lack of integration between mental health and other health services, regional disparities, and cross-cultural diversity.” Also, “an existing shortage of mental health professionals means the demand for service often exceeds supply.”
“Social determinants such as social support, socioeconomic status, and discrimination affect IRW’s health and their health care practices. Strategies that are evidence-based, such as actively engaging IRW with PPD and utilizing their experiences to guide change and innovation, are necessary.”
O’Mahoney asserted that “through listening to IRW’s stories, we can increase our understanding about the ways in which social determinants impact their mental health and well-being. Understanding IRW and PPD from the context of their lives rather than labelling them as mentally ill is a step toward decreasing stigma.”