What You Need to Know About Mental Health and Motherhood

Learn about the intersection between mental health and motherhood with expert advice for an Inkblot Therapy practitioner.

Did you know there are over 10 million mothers in Canada? This tells us that 10 million mothers might be in the same boat, wondering when they will find time for a shower, go to the bathroom alone, do the dishes, take a nap, or find some “me” time again. While motherhood is a joyful milestone, mothers can sometimes feel as though they've lost part of who they were before becoming a mom. With such a drastic change, motherhood can seem to overshadow other parts of your identity and individuality.

We spoke with Heather Deighan, a therapist with Mended Pathways Wellness and a member of the Inkblot Therapy network of practitioners, to offer guidance on the intersection between motherhood and women's mental health.

Common mental health concerns for mothers 

Motherhood is one of the “hardest jobs in the entire world [...] there’s no guidebook,” explains Deighan. Everything changes — dynamics, your body, and relationships. Deighan says you learn your “motherhood style as you go,” and it’s very different for everyone. She also explains that childhood dreams of becoming a mom look very different in the playroom or nursery than they do in real life. A Canadian maternal mental health report from 2019 showed that while mothers report a high degree of life satisfaction in their new mom role, 23 percent of mothers reported feelings similar to postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety disorder. Unlike the well-known “baby blues,” PPD lasts much longer — often up to a year. PPD symptoms can be difficult to detect in new moms because many of the PPD symptoms are similar to "normal" motherhood concerns, such as sleep deprivation. 

Other common symptoms of PPD might include:

  • Sleep changes 
  • Weight and appetite changes 
  • Questioning about why you brought his baby into the world
  • Excessive feelings of guilt and worthless for not spending expected time with the baby
  • Anhedonia, disinterest in previously enjoyable activities and/or disinterest in infant 

 Other common mental health concerns related to motherhood might include: 

How to check in with yourself to understand how you're feeling 

Deighan has worked with a broad range of mothers and says they often share a common thread: "mothers don’t always know the physical and emotional signs that come up for them." She also suggests that it may be hard to recognize postpartum given its broad range of symptoms and emotions and that mothers may see signs of mental health concerns, like postpartum, even before a baby is born. Deighan also notes that the key to managing mental health concerns is to “notice yourself.” 

"We don’t always recognize ourselves because we abandon our own needs after a baby is born," states Deighan. With that in mind, Deighan has crafted what she calls her three A's: Assess, Adjust, and Ask, which include a series of questions to help women determine how they feel. This method is based on Deighan’s work with distressed mothers.

Heather Deighan’s Three A’s: 

1. Assess 

  • What is happening or showing up for me? 
  • What are the warning signs?
  • What is my anxiety level on a scale of 1-10?
  • What am I noticing about myself that shows I'm struggling? 
  • Am I noticing sadness, or am I seeing physical impacts?
  • What are the warning signs?
  • Am I avoiding basic hygiene? 
  • Am I able to function the way I would like to?
  • What’s happening with my sleep and digestion?

2. Adjust

  • How am I eating? 
  • Do I need some help? 
  • Am I getting exercise?
  • How do I adjust to motherhood?
  • Do I need to place a shower before napping or place napping over a shower? 

Remember, one thing at a time. We can't do it all — start small.

3. Ask

  • What is my anxiety trying to say? 
  • What is it asking me to do?

Ask for help! Yes, it’s hard, but we all need it.

A mother’s pandemic experience and mental health 

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, almost half of all mothers have felt they reached a breaking point during the pandemic, suffering from anxiety, worry, sadness, and depression. Mothers were (unexpectedly) given the burdensome task of making hard decisions for their family while simultaneously worrying about their children’s (and partners, if they had one) mental health. Not only were mothers concerned about their mental health, but they also had to worry about everyone else’s. Deighan shared feelings of grief that some of her clients have when thinking back to the early days of the pandemic and how challenging isolation was for home and work life. “Isolation meant [some parents] kids couldn’t play with other kids. They couldn’t get a break from the kids, and being unable to access mommy groups in person felt really hard.”