It is normal to experience a degree of anxiety and ‘ups and downs’ when expecting a baby.
But some new parents develop more pronounced feelings of stress or lower mood than others — and the thing is, that’s perfectly normal as well.
More than 100,000 Australian parents are affected by perinatal depression or anxiety (PNDA) each year and yet many still fail to recognise that what they are experiencing is not only incredibly common, but that there is help available.
We spoke to Terri Smith, the CEO of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), to find out what the warning signs are and what to do if you spot them in someone you love.
She explained that the first signs were usually changes in mood or behaviour that last longer than two weeks, such as a very low mood, a flatness, sense of hopelessness or fatigue or, alternatively, you might notice anxiety, characterised by a high mood, frustration, anger and irritation.
“If those symptoms go on for more than two weeks, it’s important to seek help,” Ms Smith told Mamamia.
“The sooner someone seeks help the sooner they can start their journey to recovery.”
The second thing to be aware of are the physical symptoms, which can vary but also manifest differently for sufferers of anxiety, as compared to those with depression.
For depression they include:
Constant sadness or crying, withdrawal from family, fear of being alone with the baby, even thoughts of harming themselves or their baby the tougher end of their illness.
For anxiety they are:
Panic attacks, a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath , shaking, feeling detached, generalised worry or fears for the health and well being of their baby that may seems a little over the top, mood swings and obsessive of compulsive behaviours, such as continually cleaning or checking that the baby is safe.
Referring to data from PANDA’s help line, Ms Smith said that more than 60% of people who called had had symptoms for over a month — 15% said they had waited a year to get help.
“It’s normal to have a bad day, or a couple of bad days; it’s not normal for two weeks go by and someone to not to be able to get up, talk to friends or to do those daily things.”
She says that symptoms become worrying as soon as they “stop someone getting on with life or having a relationship with their baby and they go on more than two weeks.”
Ms Smith worries that many people don’t seek out support because of the stigma attached to mental health:
“If you broke your arm, you wouldn’t think about not getting help, but sometimes people are reluctant to understand what is happening, which is where friends and family can step in and tell them that what is happening to them warrants attention.”
She said that the first step for families and friends is to have a conversation and say “it’s really common, it happens to a lot of parents and [you] are not alone”.
She advised to express concern and perhaps send them to the PANDA website or call the helpline for more information:
“If it’s nothing, it doesn’t matter, but if it is something? They’ll be able to help.”
This Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week, PANDA encourages all Australians to become aware of the prevalence of perinatal anxiety and depression, it’s not all black and white and everyone’s journey to parenthood is unique. We encourage new parents to reach out for support if they are struggling – PANDA’s free National Helpline 1300 726 306 is a great first step and offers counselling, information and services to support families throughout Australia.
This year, PANDA are also encouraging parents to speak openly and honestly with each other during November through our Lunch Out Loud initiative, which encourages friends, family and workmates to get together for a positive and honest conversation about parenthood and life in general over lunch – wherever that may be!
For more information and 5 easy steps to organise your own Lunch Out Loud, see here.