Be part of the impact:

Kids Can Fly Brantford

Kids Can Fly promotes early childhood development in Brantford/Brant

Peer power: Helping moms, helping babies

If you ask Ryan Van Lieshout what he wants to achieve, he doesn’t hesitate for a second. “I want to know how to build a better brain,” he says, starting a rapid list. “I want to give children the best start in life. I want to help new mothers who are struggling do what they want to do.” He pauses and smiles. “Actually, that’s all one thing — I like to be efficient.”

Van Lieshout, McMaster’s Albert Einstein/Irving Zucker Chair in neuroscience and Canada Research Chair in the perinatal programming of mental disorders, explains that those things are all closely intertwined. Our brain’s plasticity — its ability to change — decreases with age and time. So he figures the best time to help reshape someone’s brain and mental health is when they’re a baby. And babies’ health outcomes are closely tied to maternal mental health and well-being.

So, he says, if you can help a new mother identify and treat her depression, for example, you’re ultimately improving mental health outcomes for both mother and baby.

With those outcomes in mind, Van Lieshout wants more widespread detection and prevention or treatment of post-partum depression. But it can be scary for a woman to go see a psychiatrist when she’s pregnant or when she’s just had a baby.

That’s why at least three of his current projects involve “task-shifting” — training nurses and peer counsellors to identify and address depression in new mothers.

“If you’re a new mother and you’re struggling, do you want to talk to someone who looks like me — a guy you’ve never met before in a suit, a psychiatrist,” Van Lieshout muses, “or to the peer or public health nurse you’ve already formed a rapport with, and who you’ve already discussed your entire post-partum experience with?”

Van Lieshout led a program a year ago to train public health nurses in the Niagara Region to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to new mothers who might need support.

He has also joined forces with Kids Can Fly, a non-profit organization based in Brantford, Ont. Van Lieshout is training local women — who themselves once had post-partum depression — to provide CBT to new mothers.

“These women have been through it themselves – they are living proof that you can get through this with help,” he says. “And if we can harness the power of how women support one another, we’d be foolish not to use it.”

Van Lieshout says he became a psychiatrist because he’s curious and nosy. “I like to ask people questions — there are so many factors that affect people’s mental health. I just want to know about them.”

But there’s more to it than that. Van Lieshout’s grandmother saw a psychiatrist after two of her children — his father’s siblings — took their own lives. “It helped her get back her life,” he says.

And his work has driven the same point home for him again and again. “There’s no more profound experience than helping a woman who is struggling find a way to be the person and the parent she wants to be.”

Sometimes, Van Lieshout says, women feel such a strong sense of shame that they’re struggling to cope after having a child, that by the time they’re driven to seek help, they can be very unwell.

“It’s a privilege when someone shares part of their life that they’ve never shared before, and trusts you when they’re vulnerable,” he says. “You treat them, support them, work with them in their journey to recovery. Seeing them re-engage with their children, their families, instead of feeling vulnerable and protecting themselves, opening up to them again.”

And that’s the impetus for the task-shifting: “If I can do this with one person, imagine helping many, many women,” he says. “I think if we can help a child just by treating their parent, and do it again and again with every woman who needs it, that’s truly population health.”

McMaster university psychiatrist Ryan Van Lieshout is training survivors of post-partum depression to treat new mothers struggling with depression.

Post-partum depression survivors launch therapy sessions for struggling mothers

For Lee-Anne Mosselman-Clarke, the depression felt so crippling that she couldn’t even shower, let alone leave her house.

Post-partum depression (PPD) had left the Brant County resident a shadow of her former self. It took a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication before she was able to bond with her baby.

Today, Mosselman-Clarke is a peer therapist, using the same therapy that helped her to guide other women through their own post-partum depression struggles. She conducts online group exercises aimed at rebuilding their self-esteem, focusing on activities they enjoy doing and staving off depressive thoughts.

“It can be highly emotional because a lot of things the clients talk about is exactly what I struggled with,” says Mosselman-Clarke.

“But hearing the women say, ‘I smashed that goal and achieved way more than I expected,’ is one of the best things a recovered person can hear. It is the kind of thing that makes me want to go back week after week.”

The peer-led CBT sessions are the brainchild of Ryan Van Lieshout, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences, who has extensively researched this type of depression and how best to treat it.

As part of his research, Van Lieshout and his team tested the effectiveness of peer-led CBT on 74 women, randomized into two groups of 37 each. The first group received CBT right away over nine weeks, while the second remained on a wait list during that time.

Van Lieshout first launched the CBT sessions in 2018 at a community centre in Brantford, until the pandemic forced sessions online in early 2020.

He said that mothers who received immediate CBT experienced “clinically significant improvements,” in depression and anxiety.

Ninety-five per cent were either fully recovered or significantly improved immediately after treatment and these improvements endured for up to six months.

Even better for Van Lieshout’s team, the mothers who underwent peer-led CBT therapy enjoyed a better subsequent relationship with their infants, with less feelings of anger and rejection.

“We are obviously hugely excited that a peer-delivered treatment is not only acceptable but effective,” says Van Lieshout, whose findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

“This has a lot of potential because it is scalable. It may also be more appealing to mothers than traditional treatments within the health-care system.”

“People with PPD often see peers as trustworthy, empathic and as role models for recovery.”

While the CBT has already cured some mothers of depression, Van Lieshout said there are still huge barriers stopping women accessing the help they need.

These include access to care, with long wait lists and high costs making private therapy unaffordable for many, while post-partum depression itself remains a taboo subject, as peer therapist Sandy Hamilton knows all too well.

“I struggled with PPD more than 30 years ago and for me there was nothing. I want to take away the shame, as this condition is so common and still so taboo,” says Hamilton.

“Merely for women to register for this CBT program is a huge success, as there is still such a stigma attached to PPD.”

It was precisely this stigma that caused Hamilton native Stacey Quinn to bottle up her dark thoughts, a common PPD symptom, for fear of being judged by others.

“You have these awful thoughts and to be able to express them in sessions and see people nod along and realize that they thought them too is so comforting. That alone was so beneficial,” says Quinn, a recent peer CBT participant.

“This therapy should be offered to every woman facing PPD, as it is so helpful and offers people like us a guiding light through what can be a very tough condition to deal with.”

For mothers suffering from post-partum depression, speaking with those who have come out the other side is proving to be an effective treatment.

New grant for the CBT Postpartum program!

We are thrilled to announce that we were successful in receiving a grant through the Ontario Brain Institute which was submitted in partnership with McMaster University

This 2 year grant will provide much needed funds that will allow this unique program that provides support for women experiencing Postpartum Mood Disorders through the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to continue and help more women in the community

Any woman who is interested in participating in this program can contact Sharon Brooks at (519) 448-1713 or

At this time, these sessions are active and running on a virtual format

Click HERE for the full press release if you would like to read more details of this grant



A Message from Our Executive Director ~ Sharon Brooks

January is a wonderful way to start the year off with new resolutions and new habits.  Someone told me that their New Year’s resolution was to spend more time with their family.  They set goals to have dinner together at least three times a week and plan one family time event, a game night, a walk at App’s Mill or a skate at Harmony Square.  About Children’s Health has a great top five family New Year’s resolutions… it is not too late to start!  Top Five Family New Year’s Resolutions

 January is starting off to be very busy for Kids Can Fly. Here are some events and happenings in the upcoming months. 

Parachute Program -Transitioning to Parenthood

Transitioning to Parenthood will resume meeting every Wed afternoons from 1:30 until 3:00 p.m. at St Andrews Church 95 Darling St on January 9th, 2013.  This free program has child care and a free taxi if needed.    Join other moms for some baby time and a break to discuss the challenges of life with a new baby.   For more info call Jane 519 755 9482.     

On January 16th, 2013:  Special Guest Speaker Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, MD, PhD, FRCP(C), will present  on post partum depression to moms, partners or service providers at the Parachute Program on Wednesday, January 16th between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.  For more information call Sharon 519 448 1713 or  

The Young Author’s Project

The Young Author’s Project, a project of Kids Can Fly, the County of Brant Public Library and the Brantford Expositor has been short listed for the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Tourism Awards and the winner will be announced at the Ontario Library Super-Conference Gala in Toronto January 31, 2013.  

The Launch Pad

The Launch Pad, early child development and parenting centre runs Tuesday to Friday mornings from 9:00 a.m. until 12 noon with Jane Flinders RECEC.  Located at Graham Bell Victoria School – 56 Grand St Brantford, this program is open to all, free and has a taxi service if needed.  Come for songs, stories, creative art, dress up and many fun activities with other children and parents.  Geared for children 0 – 5 years.  Call Jane at  519 755 9482 for more information. PLEASE NOTE: The Launch Pad at Graham Bell-Victoria School will be closed on Friday, January 11 as a result of the Day of Protest being conducted by elementary teachers   

Storybook Breakfast

Kids Can Fly in partnership with Scotiabank present the 6th annual Storybook Breakfast on February 9th with two seatings at 9:00 am or 11:00 am.


Come and meet all your favourite Storybook Characters and get their autographs. Enjoy a hot buffet breakfast and get your photo taken with your favourite character.Tickets will go on sale on Saturday, January 19th at Scotiabank’s Lynden Road location ONLY starting at 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. If any tickets are left, they will be sold at the Lynden Road location during banking hours.


Sharon Brooks
Executive Director, Kids Can Fly

Parachute Program

Join us!!!

The Parachute Program is a drop-in group that meets on Wednesday Afternoons 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

at the St. Andrews Community Centre, 95 Darling Street, Brantford.

You do not have to register in advance, just come and share with other moms and dads.

The new Parachute Program is a place to meet and share your joys and challenges with your new baby.

Upcoming Discussions:

September 12, 2012
Topic: Post Postpartum Depression
Presenter: Tracy Woodford- St Joseph’s Women’s Health Center in Hamilton

September 19, 2012
Topic: Informal Discussion
Presenter: Jane Flinders

September 26, 2012
Topic: Yoga
Presenter: Christine O’Neil

October 3, 2012
Topic: Informal Discussion
Presenter: Jane Flinders

For more information.

Transition to Parenthood