Parenthood doesn’t come with a guidebook and the months after the birth of a baby can be tough. Anxieties about caring for a newborn, pressures to be a “good” mother or father, lack of sleep and the added financial pressures of surviving on one wage take a toll.
About one in five expecting new mums and one in 10 new dads experience depression and/or anxiety, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) chief executive officer Terri Smith says.
But despite the prevalence of perinatal depression or anxiety, many people don’t recognise the signs or are reluctant to seek help. “Around half of all callers to PANDA’s helpline don’t understand what is happening because this is a time of change in their life. Also, there is a stigma attached to mental illness and this is a time of life that is meant to be full of joy,” Terri says. “It’s also easy for the symptoms to be downplayed, but the sooner a person seeks help the better it is for them and for their baby.”
It happens to dads, too
Men can also face perinatal anxiety and depression, and HBF launched the Direct Advice for Dads website to provide information, advice and encouragement for new or expecting dads.
“There is so much information out there for new mums, but we saw a gap for dads and wanted to speak to them in a relatable and engaging way about parenthood,” says HBF’s Nathan Schmook.
“We get a lot of feedback that the website is helping dads and their families, sometimes with detailed advice or with articles that show dads there are others dealing with the same challenges.
“We cover issues that affect new dads in all aspects of their lives, from how to prepare for their role in the birthing suite to introducing your dog to your newborn. Dads have shown us they want parenting advice tailored for them and we really hope the website helps,” Nathan says.
Friends and loved ones play an important role in supporting anyone with perinatal anxiety or depression. Encouraging them to seek help is key, such as calling PANDA’s free National Helpline.
If a new mum reaches out for help and her experience is not treated seriously, it’s then hard to take the next step and get support, Terri says. “But it’s important to reach out because this can be a serious illness that will impact on your relationship with your baby,” she says.
“If you or someone you know has been through this same experience and come through it, talk about that because the recovery message is important.”
Loved ones can also offer practical support such as cooking a meal, caring for the new baby while mum or dad catch up on sleep, washing and folding clothes or doing the vacuuming.