Improved Support for Rural Perinatal Mental Health

Community-Academic Partnership (w. UBC)

Community-Academic Partnership that adapted a well-established peer support framework (the 12-Step Program) to support those with mental health conditions

April Hards (community research partner) and Jude Kornelsen (academic principal investigator) formed a community-academic partnership and developed a peer support pilot program focused on perinatal mental health in rural communities. Their aim was to collaborate with rural community members to create an authentic and inclusive program. Ultimately, the group adapted a 12-Step Program (traditionally used to support recovery from substance addictions) for perinatal mental health support.

Their work was conducted in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Community-based co-creation of framework and adaptation of peer-support literature
    • Established Postpartum Depression Anonymous (PDA) Community Advisory Committee to guide direction of framework adaptation and implementation. Seven advisors with varied experiences of perinatal mental health challenges formed the committee and met several times to discuss the development of the program.
    • A separate 12-step Advisory Committee was formed to focus on the program details. Part of their work included the development of newcomer information sessions to be held at the beginning of each meeting
    • Adapted the 12-Step Framework for the context of discussing perinatal mental health & development of the literature and content used within the program
  • Phase 2: Pilot application of PDA 12-step program. This included outreach, development of a website, screening of member applications, and running the pilot focus groups
  • Phase 3: Evaluation of peer support framework for perinatal mental health. The evaluation included interviews with three key informant groups: PDA participants, PDA advisors, and social service sector partners working in similar support contexts.


  • Having a program that provided virtual peer support was perceived as important—particularly to participants in rural communities who would otherwise be unable to participate
  • The groups fostered a sense of security and safety for participants
  • The 12-step framework gave weight and credibility to discussions of perinatal mood disorders and related mental health challenges in a meaningful way
  • Advisors felt honoured to be part of the process and validated that their opinions were valued and used
  • Participants felt that the program reflected the focus on accessibility and inclusivity through language, inclusion criteria, and attention to cultural safety
  • The program filled a gap in existing within the social services sector
  • Maintaining confidentiality was perceived as a challenge in smaller rural communities, affecting psychological and social safety
  • It can be difficult to develop programs that are truly barrier-free and where everyone feels safe

Associated written report: Improved support for rural perinatal mental health: A framework for peer support

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