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Accessing psychiatric help during pregnancy from the comfort of home

When Cathy* found out she was pregnant with her second child, what would normally be considered joyous news, brought back emotions of fear and anxiety.  That’s because during her first pregnancy, the normally healthy and active young mother-to-be experienced clinical anxiety for the first time in her life. “I had never had a history of mental illness, so I didn’t know what was happening to me,” explains Cathy. She endured panic attacks and sleepless nights during her first pregnancy and worried constantly that her mental health could impact the health of her unborn baby. She was very relieved when she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and her anxiety disappeared after the birth. 

Cathy with family

Cathy and her family look towards a healthy future following treatment from Mount Sinai.

Cathy’s experience is not unique. Women experience such an intense period of physical and psychological changes from the time of conception through to twelve-months after the baby is born, which can make them vulnerable to both new and pre-existing psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, and in rare occasions, even psychosis. The most well-known of these conditions is post-partum depression, but other conditions, such as anxiety disorders may actually be more prevalent than depression.  “Perinatal mood disorders are the most common complication of childbearing, however many women try and hide these conditions because they feel ashamed. There is an assumption that pregnancy must be a happy time. It can be a real obstacle to getting the help that they need,” says Dr. Ariel Dalfen, who heads up Mount Sinai’s Perinatal Mental Health program, the largest program of its kind in Canada.

“The decision to have a second child took courage for my husband and I because we knew the chances were high that I would experience the same anxiety all over again,” explains Cathy. “I didn’t seek out help right away, because I really didn’t know where to turn.”  However, when she stumbled across a story in Today’s Parent, written by editor Katie Dupuis who had also experienced anxiety  during her first pregnancy, she didn’t realize that her entire second pregnancy experience was about to change. The story illustrated the author’s experience and the medical help that she received from Dr. Dalfen. “I couldn’t believe it –it was so affirming to find someone else who had gone through what I was going through”.

Cathy’s timing to seek help could not have been better.  When she contacted Mount Sinai to access the care through the perinatal psychiatry program, the social worker told her about a brand new pilot program that the hospital was launching to allow psychiatrists to conduct appointments with patients in their own homes, remotely through their personal computers using a technology called telemedicine.  As a mother of an active toddler who lives in the Niagara region, the idea of receiving the medical help that she required without the need to travel to Toronto was extraordinary. “Mount Sinai gave me the hope that I needed... support, counsel, and resources to walk the difficult road ahead and know that I wasn't alone”. She quickly signed up and was one of the first patients to go through the unique telemedicine program, which recently received philanthropic support from the Slaight Family Foundation.

Cathy met with Dr. Dalfen monthly throughout her pregnancy over her home computer. “Dr. Dalfen helped me to identify anxiety triggers and gave me resources and strategies to deal with the condition. She was so encouraging; I really don’t know what I would have done without her.  She helped me learn how to manage and control my anxiety and enabled me to experience sleep-filled nights and no panic attacks over the duration of the entire pregnancy.”  Cathy recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy and was filled with emotion as she expressed her gratitude. “I feel so blessed to have found Mount Sinai Hospital and Dr. Dalfen, who have walked through this incredible journey with me”.

*For privacy reasons, this is not the patient’s real name.