It’s OK to not be OK

Dr Elizabeth Maher. 285781_01

By Melissa Meehan

Having a baby is a huge life change – and it’s often underestimated.

Many mums and dads suffer from postnatal depression and anxiety.

Dr Elizabeth Maher says not only is there suddenly an enormous amount of relentless responsibility, but there are dramatic hormonal shifts, constant and often unwanted parenting advice from you know and sleep deprivation.

Dr Maher says many mums and dads who need support, and have noticed that more and more patients with perinatal (during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after birth) depression and anxiety over the past two years.

“The pandemic has definitely had an impact, beaseline levels of anxiety have been higher for most people due to the constant feeling of uncertainty, rapid change and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones,” Dr Maher told Kids Today.

“Social isolation has added another level of stress to new parents, who have suffered from a lack of support when they needed it most.”

Current statistics show that one in five mums and one in 10 dads in Australia suffer from perinatal depression and/or anxiery.

“These numbers are far too high,” Dr Maher said.

“There are so many pressures on new parents, from keeping up with social commitments, pressure from others to return to work or stay at home, keeping the house perfectly clean… all while posting photos of a perfect life on social media? It’s not possible.”

Dr Maher said for many, by the time they seek help, they are no longer able to function.

She said some feel like it’s a sign of failure, but she assures them it’s not.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, she says.

“It takes courage to acknowledge something isn’t right and to do something about it,” she said.

“That feeling of helplessness can be a symptom of depression.”

The good news is that there is help out there.

The first step is to see your GP for advice, they can offer a mental health care – which means you can access Medicare rebates for consultations with a psychologist.

And some psychologists are still offering telehealth appointments – so you won’t even need to pack up the baby and head out to your session.

“PANDA is another fantastic resource we have here in Australia, for both mums and dads,” Dr Maher says.

“They have a website packed with information, they offer free telephone-based counselling and have a national helpline open every week day.”

The important thing for new mums to remember is to see out help earlier than later.

The longer you wait, the harder it can be to engage with therapies that can help, according to Dr Maher.

“But no matter how bad it is, there are effective treatments out there,” she said.

“If you are suffereing from perinatal depression or anxiety, you are definitely not alone – the more you reach out and talk to people about it, the more you will hear similar stories.”

Some people are more at risk of PND than others. These risk factors include:

Being isolated from family and friends

Suffering from mental illness in the past

A family history of mental health issues

A perfectionist personality

A traumatic birth or complications during pregnancy

Relationship difficulties including family violence

Financial difficulties.

Here are some other great resources:

PANDA National helpline (Mon-Fri 9am – 7.30pm) – 1300 726 306

PANDA website: www.panda.org.au

MumSpace website: www.mumspace.com.au

Center of Perinatal Excellence website: www.cope.org.au

Beyond Blue website: www.beyondblue.org.au

Dr is a GP and founder of The Happy Baby Sleep and Settling Clinic in Moorabbin.