Mental health is an issue close to our hearts here at mumamoo, especially for new mums and parents. It informs our ‘why’ and gives us purpose to much of what we do. With 1 in 5 new or expecting mums and 1 in 10 new or expecting dads suffering from anxiety and/or depression - it’s little wonder the statistics are reflected close to home in our circle of 4 mums that form mumamoo. You can read more about Belinda’s raw and real journey into parenthood here. But what is perinatal mental illness and how does it differ from postnatal mental illness? More importantly, what are the signs if you or someone close to you is suffering?
With over 100,000 families across Australia affected by perinatal mental illness, supporting the work of PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) has never been more critical. We are proud to support the work they do by donating a percentage of all online sales to their cause. The National Perinatal Mental Healthline (1300 726 306) is just one of the services they offer to desperate families - we encourage you to visit panda.org.au where they have an incredible set of resources and toolkits for you to utilise if you are worried, and information and support if you need help.
Perinatal Mental Health Week (Nov 7-13) is important in raising awareness of this serious illness. It is more common than you think, and the theme for this year is ‘Breaking Down Barriers’.
With the huge ongoing impacts of Covid-19, it’s understandable that PANDA has seen a 51% increase in callers to PANDA's Helpline In the last 12 months.
But while many may think the statistics are alarming, PANDA sees the increase in demand as positive progress, as it means more families in Australia are no longer trying to manage alone. These families are breaking down barriers created by the stigma that surrounds perinatal mental illness to get the support they need.
To better understand perinatal mental illness, including signs to look for and where to go to seek support, let’s break it down and help to progress this important conversation around perinatal mental health.
What is perinatal mental illness?
Perinatal mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are common and can be serious. One in five expecting or new mothers and one in ten expecting or new fathers will experience anxiety and/or depression, affecting around 100,000 families across Australia every year.
Left untreated, perinatal mental illness can have long-lasting impacts on parents, partners, baby and the rest of the family. The key to getting help is being able to recognise that something is wrong and being brave enough to ask for help – to ‘tell someone who cares’. That might be talking to your partner, child and family health nurse, doctor or PANDA’s National Helpline.
There are also many other symptoms not listed here. If you or someone close to you experiences any symptoms or feelings that worry you and impact your ability to cope, please seek support.
What does perinatal mean?
The term ‘perinatal’ refers to the period from the conception of a child through to the first year after birth. ‘Antenatal’ refers to the pregnancy period. ‘Postnatal’ refers to the first year after birth.
More than general ups and downs
Being pregnant or becoming a new parent can be both exciting and challenging. Having trouble adjusting to the changes that come with impending parenthood or the arrival of a new baby is natural.
Feeling a little ‘teary’, anxious or irritable for a few days in the weeks after the birth – often referred to as the ‘baby blues’ – is common. However, if you are an expecting or new parent and a low mood, feelings of anxiousness or other troubling thoughts or feelings start to cause you concerns or stop you from functioning normally, it might be time to ‘tell someone who cares’.
What’s the difference between anxiety and depression?
In general terms anxiety refers to an aroused mood – panic, agitation, frustration or anger. Depression is often associated with low mood, sadness, hopelessness or withdrawal. Many expecting and new parents experience both anxiety and depression at the same time.
Talking about it
Many parents experiencing perinatal mental health challenges feel overwhelmed, confused, isolated and ashamed about how they’re feeling. If this is you, try to remember that these thoughts are common, you are not alone and that help is available.
It can be hard to recognise that something is wrong and it takes courage to seek help. Community expectations and stigma can make it difficult to acknowledge that you are struggling and seek the support you need.
But it’s important to get help early so you can get support to take the first steps to recovery. That’s the best outcome for you as well as your baby and partner.
Admitting you need help and seeking treatment or advice is not a sign of weakness. It shows that you want the best for yourself and your family.
Recognising perinatal mental illness
Perinatal mental illnesses like anxiety and depression can be difficult to recognise for a whole range of reasons. Symptoms are often dismissed as normal parts of pregnancy or early parenthood. Shame and stigma can lead to a ‘mask of coping’. Symptoms can look different for each person.
Signs may include:
- Feeling sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of your baby
- Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
- Being easily annoyed or irritated
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Difficulties sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping
- Abrupt mood swings
- Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
- Physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, lack of appetite
- Having little or no interest in the things that normally bring you joy
- Fear of being alone or with others
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Panic attacks (racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Developing obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Thoughts of death, suicide or harming your baby.
Where to seek help for perinatal mental illness
We know that everyone experiences postnatal anxiety and depression differently. The best way for people who are struggling to start feeling better will depend on their own experience – what their symptoms are and how strongly they feel them.
What we do know is that the sooner people seek support, the sooner they can start feeling better.
It’s important for expecting and new parents who are worried about their emotional and mental wellbeing to seek support. They can speak with a trusted health professional such as a doctor or family health nurse, or call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline.
There is also important and up-to-date information about perinatal anxiety and depression and postnatal psychosis on PANDA’s websites panda.org.au.
Reproduced with permission from PANDA
For PANDA’s Mental Health Checklist for Expecting and New Parents, click here.
PANDA’s National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline
1300 726 306 9am – 7.30pm Mon – Friday (AEST/AEDT) including public holidays.