Support group founder says new mothers with depression struggling even more during pandemic

Holly Viers • Jun 15, 2020 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Social distancing due to COVID-19 has been difficult for many, but especially for new mothers.

And for mothers with postpartum depression or other perinatal mood disorders, this time has been even more challenging. That’s where Cherished Mom comes in.

The two-year-old nonprofit organization works to provide awareness and education for perinatal mood disorders and promote self-care for new moms and their families. Founder Kristina Dulaney has worked with a number of new mothers over the last two years, but the global pandemic has created many new challenges.

“We’re seeing people that have that history of trauma, history of depression, history of anxiety, even though they’re gotten through it, this time has triggered more,” Dulaney said. “So they’re having to go back to therapy and get back on medication or whatever works for them, where it’s not only affecting the postpartum moms, but the moms that have experienced that in the past. Even if they didn’t experience it, they’re finding it more difficult during this time because there’s been … heightened anxiety, increased isolation, which just makes anything hard.”

How did Cherished Mom get started?

With a background in nursing, Dulaney started the organization after having a personal experience with a perinatal mood disorder. At the time, she knew very little about these disorders.

“That didn’t really affect me, though, until a couple years ago, when I said, ‘This is not OK. We have to do more,’ ” Dulaney said. “There are so many organizations, wonderful organizations, that are focusing on raising awareness and educating the providers and making sure there’s specialists in this niche, in this area, but there’s very little organizations focusing on the moms and the families. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that if we can spend more time educating the moms and the families and providing them the appropriate resources to get them the help that they need, that they know they are not alone and that it’s OK to seek help, the better we’ll be.”

What does Cherished Mom do?

Dulaney said Cherished Mom provides free self-care boxes to new mothers who watch a series of educational videos on the Cherished Mom website, cherishedmom.org. The organization also provides other free educational materials on its site.

Cherished Mom recently began providing care packages to new mothers and hopes to expand that program in the future. One of its longest-running programs is a support group for new mothers, which meets on Mondays at 6 p.m. every other week. Mothers who are interested in participating can visit the website to sign up.

Dulaney said the organization is operating fully online during the pandemic and is holding virtual support groups. It had been holding an in-person support group in Johnson City for the last year and a half, but after the pandemic, the group plans to start another support group in Kingsport.

How has the pandemic impacted mothers?

Dulaney said she’s seen an increase in severity of anxiety and depression symptoms in mothers her organization serves. She added that a new study has shown an increase in depression for moms with children under 18 months — now 34% compared to up to 20% before the pandemic.

“It’s significantly affecting the moms that are at home, the new moms that are delivering right now, because we have isolation already, but now, it’s everybody in isolation,” Dulaney said. “There’s already limited resources. So you stick a mom at home, and their family can’t come see them, their friends can’t bring food or they’re hesitant to bring food, so it just is more difficult to provide support. So we have to kind of think outside the box.”

She added that some mothers have been experiencing suicidal thoughts during this time.

“There was a week where there was a mom in ICU that had attempted to take her life, and I don’t hear about them all. That was just one, and I do believe in that same week, we lost a mom,” Dulaney said. “There could be multiple factors; I wasn’t involved with either of those, but again, I don’t think that our region spends enough effort to educate and provide resources for these moms and families that have such a huge vulnerability, especially right now. It’s always been my effort and goal to not lose moms, so when I hear about that, it breaks my heart.”

How can you help?

Dulaney said Cherished Mom is raising money to continue and expand its programs, both during the pandemic and after it subsides. The organization received a $10,000 donation from Tri-Cities Women Who Care earlier this year, and plans are now in the works for a fall fundraiser.

“We hope to do more,” Dulaney said. “We don’t pay any staff; I don’t receive any salary, any stipend or anything at this point. I’m just very blessed to be able to do this for the community, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn about how to volunteer or donate, visit cherishedmom.org.

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