SANDY – Utah mothers are struggling during the pandemic. In the last eight months, the new Huntsman Mental Health Institute has seen a massive increase in mental health problems among new and expectant mothers.
Motherhood during the best of times can be challenging. But during COVID-19, it's even harder.
Last year, Jennifer Mullen lost her second baby in her second trimester.
Though she was excited to be pregnant with her infant son, David, soon after, when he was born last spring, "It felt like I hit a brick wall," said Mullen, who lives with her family in Sandy.
The pandemic had just hit. Her postpartum depression had worsened with each pregnancy.
Without the support of family and friends, she felt very alone.
"We have sliding glass doors all along the back of our house, and that's how they met David for the first time was through those doors," Mullen said.
It was almost unbearable, she said.
"The illness had convinced me that I was not a good enough mother, and that I never would be and that my family would be better off without me, that my children would be better off without me, and that my husband would find somebody new and somebody better and somebody more qualified to be a mother to my children," Mullen said. "It was scary."
Perinatal anxiety and depression has greatly increased during COVID-19. The number of women reporting symptoms of depression at the UNI Downtown Behavioral Clinic jumped from 53 in October of 2019 to 315 the same month of 2020.
I don't know if I can go out because what if I get sick? What if I get exposed somehow, and then there's some sort of lasting impact for my baby?
–Jamie Hales, therapist
Therapist Jamie Hales says moms are suffering from COVID-19 isolation – less help and more worry.
"I think because of some of the pressures of COVID and concerns that our moms have really expressed about getting sick, they haven't really been reaching out to those supports in the same way," said Hales, LCSW, Perinatal Mental Health Specialist, UNI Downtown Behavioral Health Clinic.
It starts in pregnancy.
"I don't know if I can go out because what if I get sick? What if I get exposed somehow, and then there's some sort of lasting impact for my baby?" Hales said. "So it's been a big concern."
The clinic offers inpatient and outpatient treatment to meet the need. They've also started a free drop-in support group that anyone can come to. For Mullen, it made all the difference.
"I feel healthier," she said. "I feel better able to care for my children. To think that they wouldn't have me."
It's more important than ever to get help.
"The plane is going down. If you don't take a second to take that mask and put it on yourself, you're not going to be able to help anybody around you," Hales said.
Mullen said, "I'm very grateful to be here to be with them."
The free drop-in support group for new and expectant mothers is on Monday nights from 7-8 p.m. To register, send an email to email@example.com. For therapy, call the clinic at 801-585-1212. For more support, visit the local Postpartum Support International Chapter at psiutah.org.
If you or someone you love needs immediate help, call the UNI crisis line is 801-587-3000.