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Women’s Mental Health Across Reproductive Life Stages

March 6, 2023

BRIA is pleased to be open in Alberta to support women with mental health concerns across reproductive life stages. Here we share information about how women at each stage may struggle, and why specialized mental health care is necessary. 

Women go through various life stages when the combination of hormonal changes, internal psychological changes, role adjustments, and relationship transitions can affect their mental health significantly. These phases include trying to conceive/coping with fertility challenges, during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and perimenopause. During these times, many experience mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. These challenges can be complex and overwhelming, but many women brush off their concerns, feel shame reaching out for help, or find that healthcare providers are not knowledgeable around women’s mental health issues. As a result,  women require specialized mental healthcare to properly address the biological, psychological and social factors and help them feel better. 

Fertility issues can have a significant impact on women’s mental health. Women who are struggling with fertility may experience feelings of sadness, anger, shame and frustration, and almost 50% may have a mental health diagnosis. This can also impact their relationships, work, and overall quality of life. Suitable mental healthcare may include: counselling to help women work through their feelings, support groups to connect with other women going through similar experiences, and medication (if necessary) to manage anxiety or depression. It is essential that women have access to professionals who are aware of how hormones, fertility medications, and the experience of trying to conceive affect mental health, as well as knowledge about medication safety for pregnancy. 

During pregnancy and the postpartum period, women experience significant physical changes, while also adjusting to a new role of parenting and its impact on their life. These changes can have a profound impact on their mental health, and 15-20% of perinatal women suffer. Pregnant and postpartum women are often afraid to come forward with mental health challenges for fear of being judged at this supposedly happy time, for fear that child protection services will be called, and because they are often told that no safe treatments exist in pregnancy or when breastfeeding. Specialized mental health care during pregnancy can help women manage mental health challenges and reduce the risk of postpartum depression. And early intervention with care in the postpartum period can limit suffering and help someone get back to being the parent they wish to be.  Many safe and effective treatments exist. Treatments can include: talk therapy for individuals, relationship counselling, and sleep support or nutritional guidance. Sometimes women need medication to address more moderate to severe symptoms, so women need to have a healthcare provider who is well-informed about medication safety at these stages. 

Perimenopause is another phase in a woman’s life that can have a significant impact on her mental health. Ten million women in Canada are perimenopausal and 50% have mental health concerns. During perimenopause, women experience hormonal changes that can lead to mood swings, anger, anxiety, and depression. These challenges may be compounded by other factors, such as sleep disturbances and hot flashes, or cognitive changes such as brain fog.  Many perimenopausal women do not feel that their concerns are taken seriously by healthcare providers, or they find that their healthcare providers are not knowledgeable about safe and effective treatments, so their symptoms are left untreated, with great impact on their overall functioning and well-being. 

Some women in Alberta may find their primary care provider is well-equipped to offer them the support and treatment that they need at each life stage. Others find they need specialized psychiatric support that may be hard to access or have a long wait time. Generally, women need talk therapy or couples or group therapy if their symptoms are mild, often in addition to sleep or parenting coaching or nutritional support. For more moderate and severe symptoms, medications may be required. In many cases, all of the above services are needed to best address the biological, psychological and social factors of women’s mental health issues. However, there are few accessible and available comprehensive options in Alberta to treat women with mental health concerns across reproductive life stages. 

It is important to recognize the unique mental health needs of women during reproductive life stages and for women to have access to the necessary support and treatment to help them feel well and flourish. 

BRIA, a comprehensive mental health clinic for women across the reproductive life stages, is now open in Alberta.

Written By:

Dr. Ariel Dalfen

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