It feels like we’re talking about postnatal depression more than we ever have before, but it’s a conversation that obviously needs to be louder, and go deeper. According to Kristina Paterson, founder of the charity Mothers’ Helpers, two-thirds of women who have symptoms of depression during pregnancy/after baby’s birth are slipping through the cracks.
Kristina is a registered nurse with 16 years’ paediatric and child nursing experience. She has diplomas in nursing and youth work, along with many years of professional experience working with babies and children in a childcare centre and as a nanny, but her experience is also personal - she suffered from postnatal depression with her own child, and it was this experience that led her to founding Mothers’ Helpers. In addition to her role as chair, Kristina has also been the organisation’s service manager, and is the author of its ‘Perinatal Depression: Steps to Recovery’ course.
Here, Kristina gives us a basic overview of postnatal depression, including risk factors, symptoms, how to support those experiencing it, where to get help and encouragement to do so early. She’ll be providing further advice and information in her seminar ‘Post Natal Depression – the big psychological adjustment to parenthood’ at this year’s Baby Show, on 18th-20th August at the ASB Show Grounds.
OB Why is that some of us are more susceptible to post-natal depression?
KP Studies have found that some people have more risk factors than others for postnatal depression. These risk factors fall into the category of genetic risk-factors, environmental risk-factors or psychological/temperament risk factors.
If we have a genetic history of mental illness in our family or we've previously experienced depression or anxiety, we have a greater chance of developing postnatal depression. If we have stressful circumstances such as financial difficulties, relationship difficulties, partner abuse, traumatic birth, difficulties with breastfeeding, ongoing sleep deprivation, unplanned pregnancy, or poor family support or support networks, this also increases our risk of developing postnatal depression. If we have high and unrealistic expectations of motherhood placed on us or that we place on ourselves, this too increases our risk of distress. But just as obesity and genetic history increases our risk of heart disease, this does not mean we will develop heart disease. And some people develop postnatal depression without any risk factors. Anyone from any class, culture, or ethnicity can experience postnatal depression.
OB What are the warning signs?
KP Here is a list of PND symptoms.
If you have experienced symptoms like this for at least two months, you may be experiencing perinatal (antenatal or postnatal) depression or anxiety. The most common time for people to experience depression or anxiety is during pregnancy and within the first few months after baby is born. The earlier you can get help for those symptoms, the more quickly you'll recover. You can monitor your symptoms by going to our online Edinburgh scale:
You can pass on your results to your midwife, your plunket nurse or your GP or come directly to Mothers Helpers for help and support.
OB If you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with it, what should you do? What’s the first port of call? And then the possible second?
KP First, I would say, don't underestimate your ability to help. It is an unfortunate truth that women during pregnancy or after baby is born are not often being screened or picked up with depression/anxiety and experience delays in diagnosis. It's often friends/family that notice something's not quite right and their voiced concerns that lead to a mother reaching out for help. I would encourage you to talk to the mother you are concerned about. Tell her what you've noticed and why you're concerned, emphasise how much you care and how much you want to help, and that there is no shame in talking to someone about how she is feeling. Mothers Helpers has some really good articles on the symptoms of PND and the consequences of untreated PND as well as an online test women can do to see if their symptoms could indicate depression/anxiety. With their permission, you can refer them to our service directly and we will offer them help and support and work with their GP and other health professionals involved in their care: 0800-002-717 or www.mothershelpers.co.nz/referral-2
It's really important that parents and the public know that at present two-thirds of women who have symptoms of depression during pregnancy/after baby's birth are not being picked up. It's really important that if we see someone struggling, that we support them to get help.
OB It seems there is generally a growing awareness of post-natal depression, and the importance of taking it seriously and acting early. Do you have any other specifics about post-natal depression you would like parents and the general public to know?
KP When we consider that one in eight women will experience Antenatal Depression during pregnancy in New Zealand and one in five will experience Postnatal Depression, while one in twenty dads will experience depression after baby is born, it's important that we as a community support new parents. We may not be aware of parents' genetic history or even how much internal or external stress they're experiencing, but our practical and emotional support will be important. It may prevent new parents from experiencing anxiety/depression, or help them to recover. It's important that we support mums and dads to be real about their experience of being new parents rather than trying to look perfect and like they "have it all together." It's important that we reduce the stigma around mental illness, and let people know that it's ok to talk about what they're experiencing.
OB What encouragement do you have for those suffering?
KP There are a lot of barriers to getting help that women experience. Bottom line is, we don't want to have postnatal depression; we judge ourselves for feeling like we're "not coping" in our new role as a mother; we feel like a failure and don't want the stigma of depression or mental illness. But I would encourage you to be brave, because the longer you leave it, the worse it will become not only for you but also for your partner and your children. There is absolutely no shame in having depression or anxiety. So many New Zealanders have this experience. The most important thing is getting help as soon as possible. You might or might not need to take medication, but if you do - please remember that depression is not fixed by medication alone. Mental wellbeing involves our whole person: physical, mental, emotional, cultural, spiritual. Do see a counsellor or contact us at Mothers Helpers regarding our really effective PND Recovery courses.