Depression and Anxiety

It is more common than you think. Depression or anxiety along with stress and difficulties adjusting to being a parent, can occur during pregnancy or postnatally. This can affect up to 1 in 7 mums and 1 in 10 dads. Many parents suffer in silence which can prevent them from enjoying their baby. Seeking help early is very important and forms part of managing such problems successfully.

Some risk factors for anxiety and depression in pregnancy & early parenting

Many factors can contribute to parents being more at risk of experiencing anxiety and depression during this time. These may include:

  • A history or family history of mental health problems
  • Major life changes such as grief or loss, moving house, changing or losing a job, or other unexpected events that cause additional stress
  • Difficulties in the pregnancy or birth complications
  • Lack of practical, financial and/or emotional support
  • A past history of abuse or neglect
  • Health concerns for the child
  • Drug or alcohol problems

What to Look For

Parents’ experiences of depression and anxiety are different. Some of the changes to be aware of could include:

  • Changes in mood that are persistent and out of character
  • Changes in sleep routine, disturbed sleep or racing thoughts
  • Appetite changes, under or over eating
  • Inadequacy, feeling like a failure as a parent, not coping
  • Isolation, feeling alone
  • Not bonding with baby or fear of something happening to the baby
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harm to the baby
  • Lack of concentration, poor memory, unclear thinking, or difficulty making decisions
  • No energy, low motivation or hyperactivity
  • Lack of interest, inability to enjoy things, or withdrawal from social contacts

Some things that might be helpful in managing depression or anxiety include:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Time out for yourself
  • Talking to someone you trust
  • Talking with other new parents
  • Finding time together as a couple asking for help from family and friends
  • Talking to your health professional Karitane

The Importance of Seeking Help Early

When anxiety or depression is present, parents need to seek help as soon as possible. This can:

  • Identify difficulties, treat and improve the recovery period
  • Prevent ongoing family distress and anxiety
  • Develop strategies to assist managing the day to day stresses
  • Build positive, pleasurable parenting experiences
  • Ensure and monitor the baby’s emotional and physical wellbeing
  • Enhance relationships, including those with baby, partner and other children in the family

How do I know if I need professional help?

Talking to a health professional can help to identify the best approach to improving your mood. You may be asked to provide your family history and complete the Edinburgh Depression Scale (EDS). The EDS is a set of ten questions often used as part of an assessment. Working with your health professional will help to identify a plan of action suitable for your needs.

How Others Can Help

  • Talk openly, try not to give advice and opinions, and don’t judge
  • Listen and accept the parent’s feelings and try to understand their needs
  • Support and reassure the parent that you will be there for them
  • Offer to look after the baby if they would like this, without taking over
  • Helping around the house is important
  • Use family and friends for practical support and time out
  • Give encouragement and support in seeking assistance from a health professional you trust

Further information and support:

  • A Child & Family Health Nurse
  • A General Practitioner
  • Your local community mental health centre
  • Karitane Careline on 1300 CARING (1300 227 464)
  • Lifeline 24 hour counselling on 131114
  • Beyond blue website at www.beyondblue.org.au (a National Depression Initiative)