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Depression even harder for newcomers: experts

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IMMIGRANT and refugee women grappling with post-partum depression in Winnipeg could find themselves isolated and alone, say local experts.

Gail Wylie, the executive director of Healthy Start for Mom & Me, helps about 100 mothers who are new Canadians develop their parenting skills. She said immigrant and refugee women in the group are encouraged to come forward privately if they have any symptoms associated with post-partum depression.

"There's so much personal shame involved in the feelings and the sadness associated with this," Wylie said. That shame isn't limited to just new Canadians, she said, but those moms have the added challenges of culture shock and language barriers that could magnify the problems.

"If I was transplanted against my plans to a country that was extremely different than what I grew up in, I can't really imagine how painful that might be," she said.

The issue came to light this week after a four-month-old boy and his nine-year-old brother were stabbed allegedly at the hands of their mother.

Police say the 35-year-old woman attacked the children in their suite on Kennedy Street late Thursday afternoon. The boys were listed in stable condition late Friday.

The Free Press has learned the mother has recently been suffering from post-partum depression.

Wylie called the violent incident "heartbreaking."

Dr. Murray Enns, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's medical director of the adult mental health program, said at least 80 per cent of new moms experience some form of baby blues, but only one out of every 1,000 will show psychotic features.

The WRHA does not track how many women seek help for post-partum depression, but has interpreters available who can translate Somali.

Millie Braun, family and child-care resources program director at Portage Avenue's Family Centre, is currently running a pilot program for refugee families from countries like Colombia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Somalia.

The program works with about 90 families a year, providing support to people trying to integrate. Some of the families are led by single mothers.

Workers will sometimes help families with child care or with setting up appointments, she said.

Financial trouble, faraway family and friends and poor housing can add to a person's stress level, Braun said.

"Many people are still worrying at the same time about family that's left behind, or a lot of grief and loss that they've experienced even prior to coming here and things that are still even going on back home," she said.

"I think it's difficult enough for moms to be raising children in isolation without a lot of support, and then you add on top of that everything that people have been through, especially people coming from war-torn countries," Braun said.

Having young children to care for may inhibit a single mother's access to learn English, said Noelle DePape, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba executive director. She said there can be "pretty massive" cultural barriers.

"It's very hard for moms with toddlers at home who don't always have a strong support network to even get out of the house or to access language programs, or employment training, or parenting support groups," she said.

Diagnosing post-partum depression isn't always clear, said Braun.

"We will often have people say, 'I cry a lot, I can't sleep,' and we would try to assist in getting some treatment for that, but I think there's all kinds of stigma attached to that as well."

Counselling and family therapy can be seen as a "Western concept," she said.

"I think that perceptions of people in other parts of the world are that you only get that kind of help if you're crazy," she said.

"I think there is some resistance to seeking help, mental-health supports, because of the associated stigma."



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2010 A3

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