How Flora’s Walk Began
One week after Flora Babakhani died by suicide due to undetected and untreated postpartum psychosis, a friend of CPMHC Co-Founder, Patricia Tomasi, called to let Patricia know that Flora’s family wanted to get the story out about Flora in order to prevent a similar situation from ever happening again. (Read Flora’s story here.)
Patricia and fellow CPMHC Co-Founder, Jaime Charlebois, spoke with Flora’s sister, Mimi Dendias about Flora and the events leading up to her tragic death. They asked Mimi how she would feel about the CPMHC leading walks across Canada in Flora’s name and raising funds to give back to local charities delivering perinatal mental health services, for scholarships for health care practitioners to receive perinatal mental health training, and as well as for Flora’s baby Amber. Mimi, pregnant and set to give birth in April, thought it was a beautiful way to honour Flora and give back to the community. (See videos here)
On February 17th, 2022, CPMHC announced that it would be holding its first national walk-a-thon fundraiser in honour of Flora. The CPMHC set the fundraising goal at $50,000 and announced that 50% of funds raised would be for local charities, 20% for training for health care practitioners, 20% for baby Amber, and 10% for CPMHC to cover admin costs.
As of May 4th, 2022, participants raised nearly $75,000.
The CPMHC used the Raisely platform and individuals and teams began signing up and creating their own profile pages to share across their social media channels. The time frame for the fundraiser was from the date of announcement to May 4th, 2022, World Maternal Mental Health Day. Individuals and teams could either pledge to walk a certain amount of kilometres until May 4th, or plan an event with speakers and sponsors in their city on May 4th and lead a group walk on that day.
By May 4th, the CPMHC signed up 238 individuals and 47 teams across Canada.
20 walk events were planned in cities across Canada, the majority of which took place on May 4th. The Mississauga, Ontario walk took place on May 1st, the St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador walk took place on May 7th, and the Yellowknife, Northwest Territories walk is set to take place in June.
(Scroll down to see a list of Flora’s Walks across the country).
Patricia and Jaime planned the Ottawa walk which took place on May 4th at Lansdowne Park. The rain held though it was a bit windy and chilly. Helping Jaime and Patricia organize and set up the walk were Ottawa locals and perinatal mental health advocates:
- Monique Moreau (CPMHC board member and Executive Director of the Happy Roots Foundation
- Sabrina Rashidi (Psychotherapist)
- Elyse Banham (Executive Director of the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre)
- Beth McMillan (Lactation Consultant, Mothercraft)
- Shannon Tessier (Photographer)
- Meenakshi Sharma (Founder of the Lotus Movement)
The event began was held from 9 am to Noon. Info booths were set up by the Royal, the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre, Mothercraft, and Ottawa Public Health. The welcome ceremony began at 9:30 am. Speakers included:
- Patricia and Jaime
- Grandmother Irene Compton provided a drum song and land blessing
- Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett
- MP Pam Damoff (Oakville North-Burlington)
- MP Don Davies (Vancouver-Kingsway)
- MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton-Strathcona)
- Kate Baker, Director of Patient Care Services at the Royal
- Ottawa Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches
Minister Bennett Statement from Public Health Agency of Canada
In addition to her remarks at the event, Minister Bennett also released a statement regarding Flora’s Walk which can be found on the Public Health Agency of Canada website:
“Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. This is a day to raise awareness of perinatal mental illness—a topic that is very important to me as a family doctor and a parliamentarian.
This morning, I participated in Flora’s Walk. This is an event to honour the memory of Flora Babakhani, who tragically lost her life to postpartum psychosis. There are many events taking place across Canada to commemorate Flora’s life and raise awareness of perinatal health care in Canada. We encourage you to participate if you can.
Today we are especially grateful to the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative for their impressive advocacy raising public and professional awareness to ensure that people who experience pregnancy-related mental illness have access to the resources and supports they need. By working together with provinces and territories, we will ensure that mental health care, including perinatal mental health care, is treated as a full and equal part of our health care system.
At our recent round table on perinatal mental health we heard from participants from across the country – researchers, clinicians and those with lived and living experience of perinatal mental illness. Indigenous perspectives were especially important. We learned about best practices and also the gaps that remain. Today we recognize how much more we need to do to support people experiencing perinatal mental illness. We are committed to ongoing discussions with partners and stakeholders to discuss the need for national standards to ensure the best possible perinatal mental health care wherever they live in Canada.
To all the new parents who may be struggling, please do not carry this burden alone or in silence. Getting medical help is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. Talk to a health care provider about what you are feeling. There are safe and effective treatments for mental illness. A health care provider can find help for you based on your symptoms.
You can also reach out to Wellness Together Canada (WTC) for support. WTC is a 24/7 online portal that provides free mental health and substance use support to all Canadians, including one-on-one phone counselling sessions with a mental health professional.
I again want to thank the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative for their ongoing work to bring awareness to maternal mental health and reduce the stigma around perinatal mental illness. Together, we can achieve our goal of improving perinatal mental health from coast to coast to coast.”
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health
MP Davies Announcement
In his speech, MP Davies mentioned that he has served notice to the Health Committee that the NDP study he would like to move forward with is a study on women’s health and will call forward Patricia and Jaime and other women to tell their stories.
Walk & Expert Panel
The walk began at 10:15 am and followed a route around Lansdowne Park, back to the South Court in front of Aberdeen Pavilion.
The sun peeked through the clouds a few times during the walk. Jaime and Patricia led the walk with a banner and about 100 people participated in the walk. MP Pam Damoff participated in the walk along with Dr. Vera Etches and Kate Baker. The other speakers had to go back to caucus.
Upon returning from the walk, Patricia and Jaime introduced the expert panel to answer any questions about perinatal mental health. The panel included:
- Michelle Jackson-Brown, Perinatal Mental Health Program, the Royal Ottawa
- Elyse Banham, Executive Director, the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre
- Dr. Jasmine Gandhi, Medical Director of Perinatal Mental Health, the Ottawa Hospital
- Beth McMillan, Lactation Consultant, Mothercraft
- Sabrina Rashidi, Psychotherapist
- Meenakshi Shares, the Lotus Movement
- Katherine Gummeson, Coordinator, Parenting Program, Family Services Ottawa
Following the panel, prize donations were raffled off and the winners of the Ottawa Senators autographed pucks, sticks, and jersey silent auction were announced. The silent auction generated over $1000 for Flora’s Walk and was coordinated by Christina Murray, Ottawa Senators player, Matt Murray’s spouse.
Meeting With the Prime Minister
Following the walk, Patricia and Jaime met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his office in the West Block on Parliament Hill. Also in attendance were Minister Bennett, Parliamentary Secretary Elisabeth Briere, and MP Damoff.
Patricia & Jaime spoke about the need for a national perinatal mental health strategy and presented the Prime Minister with a copy of CPMHC’s book — You Are Not Alone: An Anthology of True Perinatal Mental Health Stories From Conception To Postpartum.
The Prime Minister said perinatal mental health was a priority for his government and pledged his support for the cause and the work being done by CPMHC.
The Prime Minister later tweeted and shared photos on Instagram and Facebook about the meeting writing:
“Thank you Jaime and Patricia, for sharing Flora’s story with us and for speaking openly about her struggle with postpartum psychosis. The work you’re doing, through your advocacy efforts and with Flora’s Walk events across the country, will certainly make a difference. You have byword that, on this World Maternal Mental Health Day and every day, we’ll keep working to make sure Canadians can access the health services they need, when they need them.” – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, May 4th, 2022, Facebook
Statement by MP Damoff
Following their meeting with the Prime Minister, Patricia and Jaime attended Question Period (https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/house/sitting-64/hansard) and were able to witness the statement by MP Damoff about Flora’s Walk and World Maternal Mental Health Day:
“Mr. Speaker, while the birth of a child is a joyous time, it can also be a time when mental health challenges arise. Right now, 40% of women and 20% of men in Canada have a perinatal mental illness, and rates have skyrocketed during COVID. “Perinatal” refers to the time from conception to one year after a baby is born. Sadly, we do not talk about it and even when we do, support and mental health services may not be there.
This morning, I joined Jamie and Patricia from the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative, alongside the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, colleagues and community members for the national fundraiser referred to as “Flora’s Walk” named after a Canadian mum who tragically lost her life to postpartum psychosis.
On this World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day, each of us can do more. We can talk about it. We can share stories like Flora’s and support perinatal mental health.”
Motion by MP McPherson
Patricia and Jaime were also able to witness the Motion presented by MP McPherson:
“I believe I have unanimous consent for the following motion: That, given that rates have increased from one in five to one in three women for perinatal depression, and one in two women for perinatal anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada; that Black, indigenous, people of colour, people with disabilities, gender and sexual minority populations experience higher rates of perinatal mental illness; that a study by the Canadian Perinatal Mental Health Collaborative shows that 95% of health care practitioners believe perinatal mental health services in Canada are insufficient; and that advocates are calling for a national perinatal mental health strategy, the House reaffirm its decision of May 5, 2021, that the government should develop a national perinatal mental health strategy and follow other countries in recognizing the first Wednesday of May annually as world maternal mental health day.”
Though a similar motion by MP McPherson was passed unanimously on World Maternal Mental Health Day in 2021, unfortunately, this year it didn’t pass and MP McPherson tweeted out:
“Perinatal mental health is a national issue affecting women and families in EVERY province and territory. Terrible to see @BlocQuebecois MPs put partisan politics ahead of the mental health and wellness of Canadians. I will continue to amplify the incredible work by folks @canpmhc.”
Postpartum Psychosis Awareness Day
May 6th, 2022, is Postpartum Psychosis Awareness Day and the CPMHC held a webinar of panel experts including Perinatal Pscyhiatrist, Dr. Jasmine Gandhi from the Ottawa Hospital along with three postpartum psychosis survivors who share their stories of vulnerability and hope so what happened to Flora Babakhani never happens again! Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/7vq5Ya7yKhw
As we close out another amazing World Maternal Mental Health Week, join CPMHC and other like-minded organizations in our efforts to address the most severe perinatal mental health disorder – postpartum psychosis. We know awareness is crucial for saving lives, prevention of trauma, and aiding recovery.