New collaboration delivers mental health support to new parents

The Royal is bringing mental health support to new parents through a pilot project with the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre (OBWC). 

The partnership focuses on sharing mental health expertise and providing support to midwives, OBWC clients, and to parents and caregivers in Ottawa and beyond.

Dr. Susan Farrell, vice president of patient care services and community mental health at The Royal, says the focus on capacity building is an important part of being a “hospital without walls.” 

“We envision a future in which mental health care meets people where they are at – all through our community,” says Farrell.  

Dr. Susan Farrell receiving Community Partner Award from OBWC
Dr. Susan Farrell, vice president of patient care services and community mental health at The Royal;  Elyse Banham, executive director of the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre; and Anne Marie O'Brien, social worker and the lead for women’s health at The Royal. On March 7, the OBWC presented The Royal with its Community Partner Award. Dr.  Farrell accepted the award on behalf of The Royal, commenting that “a Community Partner award is the very best type of award to receive because collaboration and partnership are essential to our goal of helping individuals throughout our community get the mental health support they need, when and where it is needed.”


“The Royal is really bringing the expertise and we are providing the space and the support,” says Elyse Banham, executive director of the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre.

“The need is so great and it’s only going to be greater.”

This initial Royal/OBWC collaboration will last one year and has three components: mental health first aid training for midwives, a series of public information sessions, and a group-based journaling workshop.

“The group sessions allow those who are pregnant and new parents who have just given birth to both engage and build the skills that they need to establish mental wellness, but it also allows them to see that other people are in the same place,” says Banham. “It helps normalize and give them a space to meet other people who are going through the same thing they are.”

Anita Manley, a volunteer with the Women’s Resource Centre at The Royal, is one of the facilitators behind the journaling workshop for OBWC clients.

She’s delivering a modified version of a six-week workshop that is regularly offered in person at The Royal. Because of COVID-19, she’s now connecting to OBWC families through a video conferencing platform for shorter sessions over five weeks.  

Some of the topics covered during this workshop include developing emotional vocabulary, self-esteem and gratitude, communication techniques, and the mental health benefits of journaling (which you can read more about right here).

Live online Q&As with mental health experts are being offered through the OBWC Facebook page. (Check for future events.) 

Nancy Kennedy, a mental health worker and peer specialist at The Royal who is working with OBWC, says this kind of community-based mental health support is especially important for people with emerging mental health problems. She also hopes the collaboration will shine a spotlight on the critical need for perinatal mental health support. 

“Oftentimes the idea of motherhood and mental health aren’t linked,” she says. “This project is great in the sense that it really underlines the fact that you can mother with a mental illness.” 

Banham says this collaboration was important before the pandemic, but has taken on even more significance given that physical distancing guidelines have severely impacted the type of support that new parents can receive from family and friends.  

“We know social isolation is one of the factors for potentially having mental health issues. Support during the perinatal period is very important, especially when we come out of this,” she says. “I think that we will see a lot of people reflecting – and really working through birth trauma – once we’re through this and looking back. I think there’s going to be a huge need for this type of support as we come out of COVID-19.”

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Made possible by generous donations to the Royal Ottawa Foundation

Made possible by generous donations to the Royal Ottawa Foundation