Having a baby should be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life.
Instead, it is the time women are most likely to commit suicide or succumb to mental illness.
Thanks to the National Perinatal Depression Initiative (NPDI) – an $85 million program funded by both state and federal governments – thousands of new parents have accessed screening and counselling services aimed at early intervention.
But those programs are now in serious jeopardy after Federal Health Minister Susan Ley announced just days ago that federal funding will end later this month, the ABC reports.
Martin Foley, Victoria’s Minister for Mental Health, described the move as “one of the cruellest cuts [the Federal Government] could deliver to the most vulnerable families.”
And he is not wrong.
Terri Smith, chief executive of the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA), says the future of its program, which provides counselling for hundreds of the most vulnerable, high-risk families, is in serious danger.
“That program has been life-changing – and in some cases life-saving,” Ms Smith says.
One in seven women (and one in 10 men) will experience depression in the year following the birth of their baby.
Ms Smith says the illness doesn’t discriminate. It affects women all across the socioeconomic spectrum – from university professors and barristers to stay-at-home mums – and “nothing protects you from it”.
“Often women who have been really successful in their career and have had a really active business life are so shocked to suddenly find themselves so unwell.
And at a point where they think they should be celebrating, and that life should be fantastic, because there is this new baby in the world.
It’s really tough when you’re looking at your baby thinking, ‘All I want to do is cry’”.
But an economic analysis found that cutting the NPDI funding could cost more in the long-run than the funding itself.
Ms Smith says not treating depressed parents would mean an extra cost due to lack of participation in the workforce, a cost to the baby’s wellbeing, and possibly a human cost.
The postnatal period is the time in a woman’s life when she is most at risk of suicide, she says.
“It is a time where women are at risk of mental illness and, for some, there is also a risk of self-harm or suicide, at the extreme. We have calls on a regular basis from parents who are at the end of their own capacity to deal with their children.”
Watch Jessica Rowe discuss her experience with post-natal depression (post continues after video):
Ms Smith says early intervention is so important to reducing the impact of the mental illness.
“With mental health, people often put off getting help – especially when there’s a new baby in the mix,” she says.
“They think this is just a natural process: ‘I’m tired, I’m overwhelmed just because I’ve got a new baby’. But there’s a point where that crosses from a very normal experience that lots of tired mums and dads have and it becomes an illness that requires medication, or talk therapies or other interventions.”
“If you have trouble dealing with your own anxiety or depression it is going to create difficulties in forming a really natural and positive attachment with your baby.”
Ms Smith says PANDA is still in talks with both the state and federal governments and “fighting” to avoid the potentially dire consequences of them shutting their critical program for high-risk families with severe perinatal perinatal depression and anxiety.
“There is a group of very high-need families that won’t have that support and the human cost is that those parents will suffer more than they need to, and so will their baby.”
If you need help, call PANDA’s national helpline on 1300 726 306.
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