Quebec woman develops digital safe space for mothers

·4 min read
Audrey Poulin, who lives in Sheffield, Que., came up with the idea for the Social.mom app after the birth of her second child.  (Submitted by Audrey Poulin - image credit)
Audrey Poulin, who lives in Sheffield, Que., came up with the idea for the Social.mom app after the birth of her second child. (Submitted by Audrey Poulin - image credit)

After the birth of her second child, Audrey Poulin began to feel lonelier and more isolated than ever before.

Sitting in the confines of her rural home in Shefford, Que., she felt lost and alone. While she was happy to chat with her neighbours, Poulin felt she was missing a mutual understanding that only fellow mothers could provide.

"I felt like I was alone in my situation," said Poulin. "I had of course some issues to deal with, with my baby, and I needed to connect with other moms that were dealing with the same thing."

That's when the chartered accountant decided to launch a mobile app called Social.mom.

The app allows users to connect with other mothers in their area, who have children the same age as theirs, so that they could arrange to meet in-person or share their worries via a message board.

"They were going for walks, meeting for brunches — they were even doing pool parties," said Poulin. "A lot of events they were organizing just to get together, to know each other and to break their loneliness."

With the pandemic, most of the communication has been done virtually, but Poulin says she has still managed to achieve the same goal of fighting off isolation.

"It's a really safe place. It creates a community of trust," she said.

Women on Montreal's South Shore use the app to organize a walking meet-up before the pandemic.
Women on Montreal's South Shore use the app to organize a walking meet-up before the pandemic. (Submitted by Audrey Perron)

But as time went on, the mother of three realized many of the posts women were sharing on the app went further than just expressing simple concerns.

Several of the women began to share deeper struggles on the message boards, including stories of domestic violence, as well as posts expressing thoughts of suicide.

"We see distress every week and we have a few moms who are talking very honestly about how they are tired of their lives," said Poulin.

Since she started the app, she says she has had 12 women come forward in saying they would have died by suicide without it.

"We know that there's some kids who will get to kiss their moms goodnight tonight because of what we did," said Poulin.

In some cases, Poulin managed to comfort the women by messaging them privately.

In cases where the women could not be reached, she worked with other community members to help track them down, or get in touch with law enforcement so that someone could check on them and make sure they were okay.

While this helped to some degree, Poulin realized many of the mothers using the app needed to speak to a professional and were having issues finding the means to do so.

That's why Poulin has now partnered up with Teledoc, a company that offers telemedicine services, to give the app users access to mental health services.

Before the pandemic hit, women on the Social.mom app would use the space to organize events, such as this clothing swap.
Before the pandemic hit, women on the Social.mom app would use the space to organize events, such as this clothing swap. (Submitted by Audrey Perron )

Normally, Teledoc is not accessible to the general public and only available through workplaces. Now, Canadian users of the Social.mom app can also access the services.

Poulin says the app can now connect mothers with a doctor in less than an hour, and with a psychologist in less than three weeks.

"Sometimes the waiting is so long with the family doctor or the public system," said Poulin. "It's unfortunate but they can't wait a year or two to get a diagnosis, to know that they have a problem."

She admits it's not an ideal solution for everyone though. Teledoc requires to subscribe for a minimum of 12 months, and at a cost of $30/month.

But she says she's trying to work with non-profit organizations to try and find other solutions for mothers who need help and can't afford it.

"We want to provide moms with as many services as we can to help them thrive and be safe and be happy," said Poulin.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

  • In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)