How are you doing? During pregnancy, your emotional health is just as important as your physical health.
What is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety?
Pregnancy and the first year of parenthood (the perinatal period) is a time of great adjustment, and the impact is often underestimated in our society. Caring for a new baby can be a unique, special and joyful time but new babies can also bring many challenges.
While most parents struggle at some stage with exhaustion and the relentlessness of caring for a small baby, perinatal depression and anxiety is a recognised mental health problem that affects nearly 20% of mothers and 10% of fathers. that’s around 100,000 families in Australia each year. Parents may not only struggle with their own lives, but the impact can also be felt by friends, family and in the workplace.
While perinatal depression and anxiety can be debilitating, it is treatable, and mothers and fathers do get better and go on to enjoy this time in their lives. Seeking help early from family, friends or professionals means recovery can start sooner and may avoid a crisis developing. Early detection and intervention can begin a journey of self- awareness and the development of robust and resilient mental well being.
Perinatal depression and anxiety may be diagnosed when an expectant or new parent is experiencing strong emotions which are impacting negatively on their ability to function as usual and have lasted for two weeks or more. This is accompanied by a lack of enjoyment or pleasure in life and an inability to plan for the future.
Treatment and Help
It’s very common to feel overwhelmed and stressed at this time, so it’s a good idea to have a conversation with a trusted person. Sometimes mothers and fathers can find help in supportive friends, relatives or health professionals.
Often offloading fears and frustrations is all that is needed. And a good listener can be a great sounding board, someone who might be able to help you work through how you’re really feeling. Sometimes emotional and practical support is all that is needed. However, if you are worried, there is treatment available for perinatal depression and anxiety. Make an appointment with your early childhood nurse or GP as they will have the professional skills to support you or refer you to further help if necessary.
Friends and family can support families in many ways:
Take time to listen and acknowledge how the parent is feeling. Don’t minimise their feelings or tell them ‘to snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’. Don’t try to ‘fix’ them by offering solutions.
Let them know that you will be there for the journey and that while recovery can be slow, there is hope and in time they will feel better. Find out as much as you can about this illness – you may also need support. Support the parent in their treatment. Reassure them that they are not a ‘bad’ parent.
Provide some meals (either home cooked or take away), help with housework, e.g. ironing, washing, mowing the lawn, offer to do some shopping. Looking after the baby for a while can make a big difference to struggling parents – enabling them the opportunity to rest or spend time with each other or go to an appointment. Offer to go to any appointment with the mother or father.
Self-care takes many forms and might include:
• Time for yourself and some special time to share with your partner
• Meeting up with friends for a coffee
• A meal or a movie
• Having a hair cut
• A dinner with friends
• Finding a group of mothers where you can spend time together and share your joys a well as your struggles
Professional Care and Treatment
Professionals who can help include:
• Child and Family Health Nurse
• General Practitioner
Gidget Foundation Australia is a not for profit organisation that provides programs nationally to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents.
- Gidget Emotional Wellbeing Screening Program – Pre-admission midwife support for pregnant women at selected hospitals.
- Gidget House – 10 free psychological sessions for expectant and new parents in person at locations including North Sydney, Merrylands, Randwick, Queanbeyan, Wagga Wagga, the Mater and North Shore Private Hospital
- Gidget Start Talking Program – 10 free clinical psychological sessions for expectant and new parents via Video Call. Available nationally.
- Gidget Village – A group therapy program that focuses on the challenges associated with new parenthood and allows participants an opportunity to share their experiences with other expectant and new parents.
- Gidget Emotional Wellbeing Workplace Program – Tailored programs for employees and management to promote engagement and develop strategies for mentally healthy workplaces.
- Education, Research & Online – Tools for the community and health professionals.
“Gidget was the nickname of a vibrant young mother who tragically took her own life while suffering postnatal depression. She hid her suffering from even her loving family and friends. Together, they created the Gidget Foundation Australia determined that what happened to Gidget would not happen to others.”