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Understanding Perinatal and Postnatal Anxiety and Depression: Identifying Signs and Seeking Support

The journey to parenthood is a time of immense joy and anticipation, but it can also bring about significant emotional challenges. Perinatal and postnatal anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions that affect many Australian parents during pregnancy and in the year following childbirth.

Perinatal and Postnatal Anxiety and Depression in Australia

In Australia, perinatal and postnatal anxiety and depression are prevalent, affecting up to 15-20% of women during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Additionally, around 10% of fathers experience perinatal or postnatal depression. These conditions can have a profound impact on individuals, their families, and the overall well-being of the community.

Signs and Symptoms

Persistent Sadness or Low Mood

Feeling down, tearful, or empty most of the day, nearly every day, for more than two weeks.

Anxiety or Worry

Experiencing excessive worry, restlessness, irritability, or feelings of being on edge. This may manifest as excessive concerns about the baby's health or well-being.

Loss of Interest or Pleasure

A significant decrease in enjoyment or interest in activities that were once pleasurable, including hobbies or socialising.

Changes in Sleep and Appetite

Sleeping too much or too little, or experiencing significant changes in appetite or weight. Sleep in particular may be impacted by pregnancy and the postpartum period for obvious reasons, but can still play a role in either triggering the onset of anxiety or depression, or also maintaining/worsening these conditions.

Fatigue and Loss of Energy

Feeling constantly tired, lacking energy, and experiencing difficulty in carrying out daily tasks.

Difficulty Bonding with the Baby

Feeling disconnected from or uninterested in the baby, and experiencing a lack of maternal or paternal instincts.

Intrusive Thoughts or Excessive Guilt

Persistent thoughts of harm coming to the baby or excessive guilt and self-blame, even when there is no evidence to support such thoughts.

Perinatal and postnatal anxiety and depression is a common but potentially serious condition. If left unrecognized or untreated, it can escalate in severity and may impact ability to care for both yourself and your baby. If you reach a point where you believe that your partner or baby would be 'better off without you', or if thoughts of suicide or self-harm concerning yourself or your baby arise, it is crucial to seek professional help immediately.

Postnatal depression can have a lasting impact. While it typically develops within the first month up to twelve months after childbirth, it can persist for much longer (months or even years) if not identified and promptly treated. Furthermore, it may resurface during a subsequent pregnancy or following the birth of another child if left unidentified and inadequately addressed.

Importantly, postnatal depression can also affect other family members. It can have adverse consequences not only on the mother but also on the father, the baby (including their development), and other children within the family unit.

Given these considerations, it is of utmost importance to seek help early in order to minimize the negative effects of postnatal depression on your life and your family. With proper treatment and management, postnatal depression can be addressed. The faster you seek help, the sooner you can begin to recover.

Seeking Support in Australia

Speak to a Healthcare Provider

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of perinatal anxiety or depression, it is important to reach out to a healthcare professional, such as a general practitioner (GP). They can assess your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and discuss appropriate referral and treatment options to a Psychologist with further training in Perinatal Psychology. GP Appointments can even be arranged from the comfort of your own home (Telehealth) which can sometimes be convenient with a newborn.

Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP)

A GP can help you organize a Mental Health Care Plan, which allows you to access Medicare rebates for up to ten individual psychological therapy sessions. This can significantly reduce the financial burden of seeking psychological support.

Mothers Groups

Joining a peer support group or mothers group can provide a safe and understanding environment to connect with others who have similar experiences. These groups, such as Mama Tribe, can offer valuable emotional support through social connection with other mamas.

Online Resources

Various websites and organisations, such as PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) and COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence), offer reliable information, online forums, and helplines to support individuals and families affected by perinatal and postnatal anxiety and depression.

Perinatal and postnatal anxiety and depression are significant mental health concerns that require attention and support. Recognising the signs and symptoms is the first step towards seeking help. If you or someone you know is struggling, remember that support is available. Reach out to a healthcare professional, and consider obtaining a Mental Health Care Plan to link in with a Perinatal Psychologist.

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