Six young mothers die

Essential Island workers dying at their workplace, doing unpaid job of caring for children

mother_and_baby.jpgSince January of this year, six young Island women have died in their workplace.

To my knowledge, there has been no investigation by any government agency leading to an identification of the circumstances that led to their deaths, an implementation of - or increase in - safety measures to make the job safer or support for the family members left without a mother, wife, sister, or daughter. 

The Island women who died on the job were doing the unpaid and essential work of caring for children; their workplace was the home. They suffered with postnatal (postpartum) depression, which eventually led to their deaths. 

When a worker is injured or dies while engaged in paid work for an insured company, the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) has the task of uncovering the reasons behind these incidents, recommending changes, and supporting the family and colleagues of the victim. On its website, WCB asserts: “Only after root causes are identified can effective steps be taken to
prevent a recurrence.”

The women who died, like all people in unpaid, caregiving work, did not have the benefit of a Board concerned for their safety. No agency or organization is tasked with the job of answering the important questions: What are the root causes leading to this tragedy? What preventative measures can we put in place so the risk of recurrence is greatly reduced? What support
do the families of the victims need? 

Women who are at high risk for physical complications in pregnancy are routinely identified by obstetric specialists and family physicians. However, women who are at high risk for emotional or mental health distress are not. Research studies vary widely, with most suggesting that 40-70 per cent of new mothers will experience low mood and 10-15 per cent will suffer from diagnosable postnatal depression; although the number is believed to be closer to 30 per cent. In Canada this means that close to 60,000 women will experience postpartum depression this year. A recent study found that more than 50 per cent of these women will go undiagnosed and without treatment, and that 5 per cent of deaths during pregnancy or the first year after pregnancy were due to suicide: (

Shame, stigma, and lack of awareness are thought to be some of the main barriers to seeking help for depression as a young mother. 

I don’t think Islanders believe that these mothers’ lives were of any less value, or their deaths less tragic, because their work is unpaid. However, the lack of preventative, proactive, and specialized mental health services during and after pregnancy, and the lack of response and outcry to these deaths, suggests decision-makers feel otherwise.

Susan Hartley, PhD is a clinical psychologist, and Health and Wellness Critic, Green Party of P.E.I.

Originally published Sept 2, 2017 in the Guardian newspaper: