Raising Awareness of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression

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One in five expecting and new mums and one in ten dads will experience postnatal depression or anxiety.

One of my close friends suffered from post-natal depression (PND) after the birth of her first child. However, she found it difficult to confide in others that she wasn’t coping. Instead, she put on a brave face masking her feelings while spiralling deeper into depression and anxiety. It was only when her husband realised that she was struggling and intervened that she visited her GP for diagnosis and treatment. By seeking help, she was able to recover from her PND.

I actually didn’t know about the extent of her depression until months afterwards when she confided in me that she had been suffering from  PND. She was afraid to tell her family and friends how she felt due to the stigma around depression and for feeling inadequate as a new mum. I felt really guilty for not being aware of the signs of PND and not recognising that she wasn’t coping.

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Awareness (PANDA) Week is coming up on 10 – 16 November 2019. It aims to raise awareness around the issues of postnatal depression and anxiety which affects over 100,000 Australian parents each year.

During this week, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) encourages all Australians to become aware of the signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression, and encourages new parents to reach out for support if they are struggling.

PANDA is an organisation which helps mums and dads deal with depression and anxiety which can occur either through pregnancy or in the first year after birth. PANDA’s free National Helpline offers counseling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia.

It can be really challenging for new mums and dads to know what is normal and what is not. There’s no doubt that becoming a parent can be an overwhelming ordeal. Many new parents try to explain high levels of distress or unhappiness as being a normal part of being a new, sleep deprived parent.  They are often told by well meaning family and friends that feelings of exhaustion, worry or unhappiness are normal because all new parents feel like that. You’ll often hear “You have a new baby. You are meant to feel like that”. However if symptoms last more than two weeks, it’s time to seek support.

The signs and symptoms of antenatal anxiety and depression can vary and may include:

  • Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
  • Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health
  • The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
  • Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
  • Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
  • Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating, or sharing partner time)
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
  • Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
  • Losing interest in sex or intimacy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Being easily annoyed or irritated
  • Extreme lethargy: a feeling of being physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
  • Fear of being alone with baby
  • Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
  • Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
  • Engaging in more risk taking behavior (e.g., alcohol or drug use)
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide

Don’t suffer in silence. If you think you need support, please seek help. It can be incredibly hard to know what is going on when you feel different and confused.

It is important for anyone who is worried about whether they are experiencing postnatal anxiety and depression to visit their GP to talk about how they are feeling.

You can also access the PANDA website for lots of reading as well as contact the PANDA National Helpline to discuss any concerns you have about yourself or a friend or family member. PANDA’s counsellors can also help you find relevant support services in your area.

They will provide you with ongoing counselling and support over the Helpline. Callers need only share what they want and can even remain anonymous if that makes it easier. Please call the PANDA National Helpline on 1 300 726 306, Monday to Friday 9am to 7:30pm (AEST).

If you know a new parent, take the time to check in with them and ask how they are doing. Parenthood can be a challenge and parents who are struggling need to know that it’s okay to reach out and ask for help.

For more information about perinatal anxiety and depression, visit the PANDA website or call the PANDA National Helpline on 1 300 726 306, Monday to Friday 9am to 7:30pm (AEST). Visit PANDA’s brother site How is Dad Going? for information for dads on perinatal depression and anxiety.

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