Mental Health and Substance Use Supports for New Mothers

May 6, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

Pregnancy and motherhood can be one of the most beautiful and exciting times; it can also be stressful and isolating. For women experiencing mental health or substance use challenges, pregnancy, postpartum life, and even fertility challenges bring a host of additional safety concerns, stigma and feelings of shame, and potential health risks for both mother and child.

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, if you are an expectant or new mother, learn about pregnancy care during the COVID-19 outbreak on the BC Centre for Disease Control website. It is normal to feel a heightened level of stress right now if you are pregnant or beginning your journey into motherhood. You are not alone, and help is available.

If you need support with your mental health, find resources on managing COVID-19 stress, anxiety & depression.

Helping women safely navigate pregnancy and those postpartum months are countless health care professionals like Alexandra Lihou Gibson, a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the Reproductive Mental Health Program at Royal Columbian Hospital. Learn below how Alexandra helps women improve their mental health during and after pregnancy.

How does your work help women who are experiencing mental health or substance use challenges?

I work with individuals who are struggling with new or pre-existing mental health challenges in pregnancy, the postpartum period, during times of infertility, pregnancy interruption, traumatic birth experiences, and pregnancy or infant loss. I provide support, counselling, therapeutic tools, and community resources to our patients through individual and group therapy.

Why is your work important to you?

It is often a lonely and isolating time for parents who are struggling to conceive, in the perinatal period, or for those who are grieving. It is also a time of increased anxiety and worry. We tend to fear the unknown. I work to normalize the patient’s experience; their worry, sadness or anger, to reduce the stigma. I have the best job in the world. I see my work not only impacting the mother, but also the health and quality of her family.

What unique challenges do women face when it comes to mental health and substance use?

There is this internal and external pressure to be a superwoman and it is just not realistic.

Often substance use is hidden due to the shame and not feeling “good enough”. The mother may be struggling with the lack of sleep in the postpartum period, increased feelings of being overwhelmed due to anxiety and worries or has a negative body image due to her changing physique.

Does stigma affect the clients you work with?

Yes! Becoming a parent is hard enough without all the unrealistic pressures and expectations both we as individuals and society puts upon us. We work hard to normalize mental health struggles and encourage the mother to become the parent she wants to be.

Motherhood is a beautiful, chaotic, messy, imperfect time. It is important to cultivate a support network that is actually supportive, reduces isolation, and for new mothers to know that what they are feeling is not unique.

What are some ways we can all support people, particularly parents, experiencing mental health or substance use challenges?

Listen to new parents. Offer kindness, empathy, and support to the family. Ask, “what would be helpful?”

Don’t try to fix or give advice. We should be encouraging parents to take charge of their own journey.


Where families can turn for help

The first step to getting help for mental health or substance use challenges during the perinatal period is to visit your family doctor or a walk-in clinic for an initial assessment. A doctor can direct you to the most appropriate resources. Other resources that can help:

  • The Pacific Postpartum Society: Call 855-255-7999 or text 604-255-7999 to talk to a postpartum counsellor and get a referral or get support if you’re experiencing postpartum distress, depression or anxiety.
  • HealthLink BC Service Finder: call 8-1-1 to speak to a service navigator who can help you find a healthcare service near you.


* Alexandra Lihou Gibson was featured in Humans of Fraser Health publication. Read more profiles.