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'I cried harder each day,' says migrant mum who battled postnatal depression

Ishan Muwalia with her husband, Ankush Muwalia and daughter, Inaika Source: Supplied by Ishan Muwalia

Ishan Muwalia, who was raised in a joint family in Punjab, in north India, says the inability to be with loved ones after giving birth and isolation induced by COVID restrictions pushed her into 'acute' postnatal depression.

Ishan Muwalia gave birth to her daughter Inaika in a Melbourne hospital when the world was grappling with a surge of COVID-19 cases and its many variants in June 2021. 

A month after she gave birth, the 32-year-old mum says her depression had aggravated to the point that she was experiencing thoughts of self-harm. 

"I cried harder each day and started blaming myself for every little thing," says Ms Muwalia, who migrated to Australia from India three years ago.

"I blamed myself for not eating well, for not producing enough milk to breastfeed my child and would often get frustrated over not being able to cook or clean or even take a bath," she recalls. 

Postnatal depression affects 15 to 20% of women and can commence any time during pregnancy.


Highlights:

  • Ishan Muwalia struggled with postnatal depression after she gave birth to her daughter in June 2021
  • Mental health professionals claim cases of postnatal depression have risen among migrant women
  • Health practitioners call for awareness and change in attitudes towards depression

Ms Muwalia, who was brought up in a large family in Punjab, says her bouts of postnatal depression were triggered by loneliness and the toil of being a first-time mum in the absence of family support. 

I never thought I will feel so alone becoming a mother

She says that her post-birth experience would have been much better and healthier if she had her mother or mother-in-law in Australia to help her with the baby. 

"My daughter cried all the time, and I felt failed as a mother. I felt so depressed that there was nothing that could make me happy," she says.

When her condition deteriorated, her husband, Ankush Muwalia, took a stand and quit his full-time job as a truck driver to care for his wife and daughter. 

"Fortunately, my husband stood by me and helped me with the care I needed. As a result, I eventually got better," Ms Muwalia says.

The couple has now started an at-home tiffin service to support themselves financially. 

postpartum depression
The number of new callers to the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) helpline doubled during COVID-19. (Representational Image)
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

'Stop considering postnatal depression as taboo'

Dr Zeeshan Akram, a GP based in Melbourne, says postnatal depression is invisible to most in the community.

"Women battling perinatal or postnatal depression need to voice their woes and should seek help from government-facilitated services and access other channels of social support available across the country," he says.

He adds that the community should stop considering all forms of depression as taboo and stay vigilant for any out of ordinary symptoms of deteriorating mental health.

'Postnatal depression is real, especially for first-time mothers'

Rupinder Kaur
Mental Health professional, Rupinder Kaur.
Supplied by Rupinder Kaur

Rupinder Kaur, who works as a mental health professional with a registered National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provider in Victoria, says she has witnessed a spike in the number of cases of postnatal depression over the past year. 

"Restrictions and repeat lockdowns are preventing new mums from accessing basic help from family and friends that was usually readily available before, which has contributed to a rise in postnatal depression cases in the recent past, especially among migrant women.

"Women from the community have become more open when it to comes to discussing issues related to mental health, which was not a usual case before", she says.

According to research published by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), a professional body for GPs in Australia, the number of new callers to the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) helpline doubled, as did call times between March and October 2020.

The pattern suggested an increased frequency and intensity of the illness. 

The report further found that people made most of these calls from Victoria, which experienced a prolonged lockdown in 2020.

 

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. More information is available at Beyondblue.org.au

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Disclaimer: This article's content and audio are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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