Sometimes the birth of a parent is harder than the birth of a child.
For me, it was bloody tough. In those early months, I suffered anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks. All I could think about was walking out the front door and never coming back.
I’ve written about my experience with postnatal depression before, but as part of Perinatal Depression and Anxiety (PNDA) Awareness Week I wanted to share some great advice and insights from Terri Smith, CEO of PANDA, about when you should seek out help, where you can get the support you need, and what to do when a loved one is struggling with perinatal depression and anxiety.
What are the signs of perinatal depression and anxiety?
This year, people may notice that what used to be known as PND (Postnatal Depression) Awareness Week is now known as Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week. This is because it is now understood that anxiety and depression don’t wait for baby to be born and many people experience challenges during pregnancy as well as after baby has arrived.
Anxiety is also a new addition as it is now recognised that the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression can present themselves in many ways and degrees of severity, and anxiety can be just as debilitating and concerning for new mums and dads as depression. Having a baby is both an exciting and challenging time and every individuals journey to parenthood is different. It’s not all black & white.
So when we’re considering the symptoms we need to understand that it varies according to the individual and they 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 or wellbeing of baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
- Changes in appetite: under or overeating
- Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
- Extreme lethargy: a feeling of being physically or emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
- Memory problems or loss of concentration (‘brainfog’)
- Loss of confidence and lowered self esteem
- Constant sadness or crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Fear of being alone with baby
- Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
- Irritability and/or anger
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Loss of interest in sex or previously enjoyed activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How can you support someone you love who is struggling?
What we hear often on the PANDA National Helpline is callers saying – “This is hard”. New mums and dads need to know that they are not alone and what they are feeling is common and that help is close at hand as they face this important transition in their lives.
Friends and family can play an important part in new mums and dads seeking help early as they may be the first to notice something is different with a new mum or dad. One of the common things we hear through the helpline is that for many parents feeling overwhelmed, isolated and ashamed can feel too much and that they are struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings which might, in more extreme cases, include thinking of harming themselves or their baby. These thoughts are common in our society and are signs that help is needed. Perinatal anxiety and depression does not discriminate regardless of where you live, your age or your income – it affects new mums and dads across the country.
We know help is available and PANDA is a good first step towards recovery.
What do you do if you feel like you’re not coping with parenthood?
If you worried that you’re not feeling ‘normal’ the best thing you can do is ask for help.
Many parents we speak to on the PANDA National Helpline wait 3, 6 or even more than 12 months before they contact us because they thought that what they were experiencing was part of having a new baby. Suffering in silence for this amount of time is exhausting and has potentially devastating consequences for the individual, parent-infant attachment and the family unit. We have a long way to go as a society in creating awareness and reducing stigma so people can recognise the signs of perinatal anxiety and/or depression , know where to seek help, and feel comfortable doing so.
Having an open conversation with someone you trust is often a good first step – your partner, another family member or a close friend. You might prefer to talk openly with your GP or you can call PANDA’s National Helpline or checkout the website at www.panda.org.au .
PANDA’s Helpline 1300 726 306 is available 10.00 am – 5.00pm (ESDT) Monday to Friday.