Flora’s Walk raises awareness of parents’ mental health struggles for 3rd year in St. John’s

Flora’s Walk was held for the third year in a row in St. John’s Saturday. About 50 people came together to raise awareness of perinatal mental health issues. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)WARNING: This story contains details of suicidal ideation.For the third year in a row, a fundraiser for perinatal mental health in St. John’s aimed to raise awareness of the struggles some parents experience when welcoming a new family member.Flora’s Walk was organized by the provincial chapter of the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative, which was formed at the beginning of this year. It brought about 50 people to Quidi Vidi Lake.One of them was Renee Francavilla, who’s a member of the collaborative. She helped organize the inaugural Flora’s Walk in Barrie, Ont., in 2022 — because its cause was personal.”At the time, I was actually in my postpartum period with my daughter,” said Francavilla.”The foundation and the purpose of the walk was something that was very dear to my heart, as it’s actually something that I went through.”Flora’s Walk coincides with Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs during the first week of May. The walk is held annually in memory of Flora Babakhani, a new mother from Toronto who died by suicide in early 2022, after experiencing a perinatal psychosis. The walk aims to spread awareness of all perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which are mental health issues during pregnancy and within one year of delivery, and can range from obsessive-compulsive disorder to anxiety or depression.Francavilla dealt with postpartum psychosis, which manifested in a lack of attachment to her daughter, as well as feeling watched, hearing voices and experiencing suicidal thoughts.”I felt like I didn’t have a daughter, which kind of sounds odd, but that’s how it started off. I knew that I had a little girl, but I never felt that she was actually mine,” she said. “I knew something was not right and that I needed to seek help,” Francavilla said. “I really had to kind of work through it and tell myself that the things that were going on in my head were not true.”WATCH | Around 50 people took to the shores of Qudi Vidi Lake to raise awareness of perinatal mental health:Flora’s Walk in St. John’s aims to spark conversations about the mental health of new familiesThe annual fundraiser Flora’s Walk is dedicated to Flora Babakhani, who died by suicide after experiencing postpartum psychosis. In St. John’s, people came to walk for Flora the third year in a row. Their goal — starting conversations about the topic of perinatal mental health and raising funds for support programs.She said she slipped through the cracks of the Ontario health-care system and wasn’t diagnosed with postpartum psychosis until she had her second child in Newfoundland and Labrador.One in four families in the province have a similar experience to Francavilla’s, said Jamie Green, adding that the number is higher than the national average of 20 per cent. In addition, perinatal mental illness also affects 10 per cent of non-birthing partners.Green is chair of the organization’s provincial chapter, and a resident physician in psychiatry at Memorial University.She said understanding of the issue and support for the cause is growing each year. For the first time,the province hosted three walks this year with events in Corner Brook and Carbonear.”In general, mental illness is spoken about much more openly, which is a wonderful thing to see,” said Green. “I think women are being spoken to about it at their appointments more frequently, or I hope so.”Renee Francavilla, left, and Jamie Green are members of the provincial chapter of the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative, which organized Flora’s Walk in St. John’s. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)Funds raised at the events, she said, will be used for the first-ever provincial education seminar on the topic this fall as well as for a support program for new families.Yet, Green said there is still work to be done to close gaps in the health-care system, like a universal screening protocol for perinatal mental illness at health-care provider appointments.”At a national level, there is a lack of guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of perinatal mental illnesses,” said Green. “That is something that is actually being worked on at the national level now and is supposed to come down the pipeline later in 2024.”Meanwhile, Francavilla encourages new parents to advocate for themselves — and to seek support from others.”Push, push, push. Talk about it to your doctors,” she said. “We’re all here to support one another. Postpartum period is so, so difficult and I think that we should just kind of come together as one and support one another to get through it.”Download our free CBC News app to sign up for push alerts for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. Click here to visit our landing page.

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