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The mums who are pushing their peers into the depths of postnatal depression.

The pressure of being perceived as the perfect parent has become so overwhelming that it’s contributing to postnatal depression, new research has indicated.

A study conducted by the Centre of Perinatal Excellence has revealed that 49 per cent of NSW mothers who experienced perinatal depression or anxiety during pregnancy or in the year after birth “hid their true feelings from their family and friends” due to high expectations, shame and denial.

While roughly one in seven Australian mothers are believed to be affected by PNAD each year, COPE Executive Director Dr Nicole Highet said the results were indicative of the stigma and lack of awareness that persists around mothers’ mental ill-health.

“Being truly healthy during this unique period in life means a woman must look after her physical and mental wellbeing, but too often the emotional and mental health challenges experienced during this time are overlooked, misunderstood and not spoken about,” she said in a statement.

“This can evoke intense feelings of isolation and shame, and worsen feelings of stress, depression and/or anxiety.”

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president, Dr Michael Gannon, believes women have become “too competitive” when it comes to motherhood, fostering a culture of judgement and cruelty.

“I would love to see women be kinder to themselves and their peer group,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“They’re extremely competitive. I’ve talked to many women who come back from mothers’ group quite distressed and traumatised… There are examples of women being cruel to each other, like it’s some form of failure if you can’t comprehensively breastfeed your child, or if you ‘gave up’ and had a certain form of pain relief (during birth). That’s one driver of post-natal depression.”

Listen: Psychologist Kirsten Bouse talks to Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes about what post-natal depression really looks like, and strategies for coping. (Post continues below…)

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According to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia, the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety are varied, but often 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 (‘brain fog’)
  • 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 previously enjoyed activities
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

“If you’re worried you could have antenatal or postnatal anxiety or depression, be assured that many other women and men have come through this experience to find joy and fulfillment as a parent,” PANDA advises.

“You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through it alone.”

If you’re struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Help is also available via the PANDA hotline: Call 1300 726 306, Monday to Friday, 9am – 7.30pm AEST. For 24-hour crisis support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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