Pregnancy and the first 12 months of parenthood, or the ‘perinatal period’, is a very special time. Along with being a joyful time, welcoming a new baby can be challenging. So, how do you know if what you’re feeling is a ‘normal’ response to having a new baby, or if further support is needed? In this episode you’ll hear about what perinatal anxiety and depression looks like, how to get help, and why it’s important to reach out for support sooner rather than later. Spoiler: Perinatal anxiety and depression can affect men too.
Edwina Sharrock is a registered midwife and nurse, member of Childbirth and Parenting Educators of Australia, wife and mother of two.
Edwina is also the Founder and CEO of Birth Beat , an online provider of child birthing classes as well as baby/ child first aid classes. Edwina decided to create Birth Beat after the birth of her first child, Polly. Edwina was frustrated by the lack of options for rural women and their partners about where to birth and also where they could access quality prenatal education.
After the birth of her second child, Theo, Edwina found herself struggling with seemingly never-ending feeds, sleepless nights, and extreme feelings of being overwhelmed.
Kate Arndell is a Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) Coordinator based in Tamworth. Kate has been with the RAMHP team for over five years and works with rural and remote communities to identify and link people experiencing mental health concerns to support.
Through innovative projects, local partnerships, mental health information, tailored advice and training, Kate works to ensure individuals and communities know how and where to find help when it’s needed.
As a mum, Kate has also experienced first hand the ups and downs of parenthood.
Some parents experience mental health difficulties for the first-time during pregnancy or early parenthood, while others may experience pregnancy and parenting with a history of mental illness. Any mental illness present during pregnancy or the first twelve months after birth is considered a ‘perinatal mental illness’, regardless of whether the person has experienced the illness before.
An episode of perinatal depression and anxiety can be mild, moderate, or severe. It is diagnosed when several of the following symptoms occur for more than two weeks:
- Depressed mood, including feeling “sad, empty or hopeless”
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life
- Physical symptoms including changes in appetite, headaches, sweaty palms, heart racing
- Sleeping issues
- Moving more slowly than usual or finding it harder to slow down than usual
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Not feeling attached or bonded with your baby
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, feeling trapped
- Impaired concentration or indecisiveness
- Thoughts of death, self-harm or a suicide attempt
Research undertaken in Australia and other countries finds that around 15-22% of women experience depression during pregnancy and/or following the birth of their baby [1-4].
While there has been less research about perinatal anxiety, it is understood to be at least as common as depression, if not more so . A number of women will experience both anxiety and depression .
There is less research available about the mental health of fathers, however it is thought that at least one in ten men will experience depression . Anxiety is also a common experience for fathers and is often experienced along with depression . A recent review estimates that the prevalence of anxiety in men in the perinatal period is 3.4%-25% .
45% of fathers are not aware that men can experience postnatal depression as well as women .
MumSpace – MumSpace is Australia’s new one-stop website supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of pregnant women, new mums and their families.
MumSpace provides advice and support in the transition to parenthood, to effective online treatment programs for perinatal depression and anxiety. The resources on MumSpace will help you ‘step-up’ to whichever level of support suits you best. MumSpace is also a resource for your healthcare professional.
MumSpace is brought to you by the Perinatal Depression e-Consortium (PDeC), led by the Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI) in partnership with Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), Monash University, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and Queensland University of Technology.
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) – 1300 726 306
For immediate support, you can contact the PANDA National Helpline: 1300 726 306 Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST
PANDA’s National Helpline is available to provide support and information to families experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression.
Callers are supported by someone who really understands how they are feeling and knows how to help them take the first step to recovery. Many of PANDA’s trained counsellors – a combination of professional staff and peer support volunteers – have experienced perinatal depression and anxiety themselves. You do not need a diagnosis of perinatal anxiety or depression to call PANDA. Partners, family members and friends supporting a loved one with perinatal depression and anxiety can also call PANDA’s National Helpline.
PANDA’s website is also packed with extensive information and support resources including checklists, factsheets, information for during pregnancy, after birth, and for dads, partners and carers.
The Gidget Foundation provides support services for families suffering emotional distress during pregnancy and early parenting and education and awareness programs for health professionals and the community. They have a whole range of resources including brochures, books and DVDs and provide access to 10 free clinical psychological sessions for expectant and new parents in person at 13 locations as well 10 free clinical psychological sessions for expectant and new parents via video call.
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Beyond Blue have information for new and expectant parents, covering everything from pregnancy and bonding with your baby through to spotting the signs of anxiety and depression.
Beyond Blue also have a 24/7 phone line. Call 1300 22 4636.
This Way Up has an online Pregnancy Course and an online Postnatal Course which is suitable for people who are pregnant or have a new baby and are experiencing sadness or excessive worry that doesn’t seem to go away.
In addition to the pregnancy and postnatal courses, This Way Up can help you to learn practical tools to take care of your mental health and have a wide range of self-paced online courses that teach clinically-proven strategies to help you improve the way you feel.
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s mental health, you can call the NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 for advice.
Having a tough time and need someone to talk to right now? The following services are there to listen and help you out. They are confidential and available 24/7.
- Lifeline – 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service– 1300 659 467
- MensLine– 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Help Line (for young people aged 5 to 25)– 1800 55 1800
- Domestic Violence Line – 1800 656 463
- 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732
- Alcohol and Drug Information Service – 1800 250 015
- Gavin NI, Gaynes BN, Lohr KN, Meltzer-brody S, Gartlehner G, Swinson T. Perinatal depression: a systematic review of prevalence and incidence. Obstet Gynecol. 2005;106(5):1071-1083.
- Yelland J, Sutherland G, Brown SJ. Postpartum anxiety, depression and social health: findings from a population-based survey of Australian women. BMC Public Health. 2010;10(1):771-781. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-771
- Howard LM, Ryan EG, Trevillion K, et al. Accuracy of the Whooley questions and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale in identifying depression and other mental disorders in early pregnancy. Br J Psychiatry. 2018;212(01):50-56. doi:10.1192/bjp.2017.9
- Woolhouse H, Gartland D, Mensah F, Brown S. Maternal depression from early pregnancy to 4 years postpartum in a prospective pregnancy cohort study: implications for primary health care. BJOG. May 2014:1-10. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12837
- Fairbrother N, Janssen P, Antony MM, Tucker E, Young AH. Perinatal anxiety disorder prevalence and incidence. J Affect Disord. 2016;200:148-155. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.12.082
- Falah-Hassani K, Shiri R, Dennis CL. The prevalence of antenatal and postnatal co-morbid anxiety and depression: A meta-analysis. Psychol Med. 2017;47(12):2041-2053. doi:10.1017/S0033291717000617
- Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. J Am Med Assoc. 2010;303(19):1961-1969.
- Leach LS, Poyser C, Cooklin AR, Giallo R. Prevalence and course of anxiety disorders (and symptom levels) in men across the perinatal period: A systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2016;190:675-686. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.09.063
- Philpott LF, Savage E, FitzGerald S, Leahy-Warren P. Anxiety in fathers in the perinatal period: A systematic review. Midwifery. 2019;76:54-101. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2019.05.013