This week is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week, and we think it’s time to bust some myths about postnatal depression.
Here are half-a-dozen things you might not know about this widespread mental illness.
It's common, but not normal
Postnatal depression is very common: one in seven women have been diagnosed with the condition.
Many new mums find it difficult to know the difference between the challenges of being a parent and when their mental health needs attention. In fact, 40% of Australians think the signs of postnatal depression are just a normal part of having a baby.
This isn’t the case, and there is a point where seeking help is important. “If, in a moment of honesty, you can look into yourself and think about whether these feelings are stopping you from being the kind of mum you want to be, then it’s time to get some help,” explains Terri Smith, CEO of PANDA.
“At a very basic level, if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks then it’s time to get some help,” Smith adds on a practical level.
It’s a global issue
Women all around the world are affected by postnatal depression, and recent research reports that its prevalence is similar across many nations. Some cultures consider it as serious unhappiness rather than an illness requiring treatment, and in fact 30% of Australians agree with this sentiment.
“At a very basic level, if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks then it’s time to get some help.”
One contributing cultural factor can be limitations set by traditional rituals – for example, a post-birth confinement period in some cultures can contribute to difficulties experienced by mothers.
There are many ways to treat it
Treatment options for postnatal depression are varied, and can range from counselling, psychological treatments, alternative therapies, lifestyle changes and medication, or a combination of those options.
“Getting help can mean lots of different things: talking to someone you trust, looking for resources on our PANDA website to understand what’s going on, calling our helpline, or having a conversation with your GP,” says Smith.
Men can experience it too
Up to one in 10 new dads struggle with depression following the birth of their baby.
“Men whose partners are going through perinatal depression or anxiety are more likely to experience perinatal depression or anxiety,” says Smith.
One big challenge for men is seeking help, particularly when they feel they should be in a support role for their partner rather than needing help themselves. However, reaching out is important: “It’s a serious medical condition and it needs support,” says Smith.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience
It’s common to look at a list of signs and symptoms and believe that you’re not affected by postnatal depression because you don’t fit the stereotype. The truth is, everyone who goes through it reports a different experience.
“Postnatal depression occurs in lots of different ways, and every story is unique,” says Smith. “Some women with postnatal depression find it really hard to attach to their baby, while some are absolutely in love with their baby but they can’t find any joy in day-to-day life.”
There is life after PND
While there are higher risks for those who have experienced mental health conditions in the past, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“If you’ve had depression or anxiety before having a baby, you’re more at risk of developing antenatal or postnatal depression or anxiety,” says Smith, “and if you’ve had postnatal depression or anxiety before, then you’re more at risk with subsequent babies.”
The good news is that this puts you in a good position to be able to help yourself. “If you’ve gone through it before then you’re much more able to intervene,” Smith says. “You have strategies, you can re-engage care with a health professional you’ve seen before, and you can understand the early signs.”
Recovery from postnatal depression is highly possible, and seeking help is really important.