Depression and Anxiety
Depression and its related symptoms are much more common than you might expect.
Anxiety, stress and general difficulties adjusting to parenthood may occur during pregnancy, or after you have had your baby.
On average, up to 1 in 7 mums and 1 in 10 dads will experience post or perinatal depression and anxiety.
Many parents may be suffering from depression and anxiety and aren’t getting help because they feel embarrassed or ashamed. Not getting help can interfere with the enjoyment every parent is entitled to during parenthood. By seeking support early you’re taking very important steps to help yourself feel better, sooner – which is better for you and your baby.
Depression and Anxiety
There are many factors that may contribute to a parent being more ‘at risk’ of experiencing depression and anxiety. These include:
- Personal or family history of mental illness
- Major life changes
For example: grief, loss, moving house and changing or losing a job
- Pregnancy difficulties
- Birth complications
- Lack of practical, financial and/or emotional support
- Past history of abuse or neglect
- Child health concerns
- Drug or alcohol problems
As parents we can all experience different types of stresses and may feel anxious from time to time. Some of the more severe symptoms of anxiety that require awareness include:
- Constant anxious thoughts and worries
- Constant irritability and restlessness
- Taking a long time to fall asleep
- Anxiety or fear that stops you from going out
- Anxiety or fear over your baby’s health
- Panic attacks
Overwhelming feelings of panic that are difficult to control
- Tense muscles, heart palpitations and a tight chest
Depression comes in different forms. You may be experiencing depression if you display symptoms like:
- Mood changes
These are lasting, and often out of character
- Sleep changes
Disturbed sleep or racing thoughts at night
- Changes in appetite
Under or overeating
- Feelings of inadequacy, failure or inability to cope
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Inability to bond with your baby
- Fear of something happening to your baby
- No energy, low motivation, or hyperactivity
- Inability to enjoy things you used to, or withdrawal from social contacts
- Harmful thoughts
Either self-harm or harm to your baby
- Wanting to escape
If you’re experiencing some of the changes listed above, or feel an acute, extended distress that impacts your daily ability to function, you may need to speak with a health professional. They’ll work with you to help identify the best approach to improve your mood, through a tailored plan of action.
Professional help may come from your GP, a counsellor, or your child and family health nurse. During the consultation, you may be asked to provide your family history, and/or complete a questionnaire on your feelings.
The importance of seeking help early:
If you think you might be experiencing depression or anxiety, seek help early. Doing so has been proven to have many benefits, including:
- Feeling ‘well’ sooner
- Improved family relationships
With your partner, baby, and/or other children
- Greater enjoyment of parenthood
- Enjoying new experiences
- Preventing bigger problems
Taking good care of yourself is the most important thing to take good care of your baby. Taking steps towards personal self-care makes a real difference when adjusting to your new role as a parent.
- Take time out for you
Sit outside in the fresh air with a cup of tea, go for a walk, take a relaxing bath, or do something that you enjoy.
- Share your experience
Meeting and chatting with other new parents offers a valuable source of company and support. The Resourcing Parents website can be helpful.
- Rest when you can
Even reading a magazine for a few minutes can provide the mental break you need.
- Eat healthy
A well balanced diet will give you the right energy to care for your child.
Try to fit in some physical activity each day. This could be a walk with the pram, home yoga, or a gym membership.
- Accept help
If friends and family offer to pitch in, use your free time for self-care.
- Reach out
If you ever feel overwhelmed or that you can’t cope, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a healthcare professional.
Sometimes you may become so preoccupied with the needs of your baby, you don’t even realise you’re struggling. You may recognise your feelings, but not know how to talk about them. Often, it’s a partner or family member who first notices something’s wrong.
Whatever the situation, we know having a supportive partner, family member or friend makes a real difference when a parent is overwhelmed. If you’re in the position to help a vulnerable parent, we recommend:
Don’t be judgemental with your opinions and advice.
Let them know you want to understand how they are feeling, and that you’re there for support.
- Offer support
Offer to babysit – or even help out around the place. Cooking, cleaning and washing are great ways to pitch in! Be mindful to help out without taking over.
- Suggest time out
Let them know it’s OK to take personal time.
- Encourage them to seek help
Let them know it’s alright to seek professional assistance if they need it.
- Karitane Careline
We are with you every step of the way
1300 CARING | 1300 227 464
- Beyond Blue
An organisation promoting good mental health
- Your local community health centre
- Your general practitioner
- Your child and family health nurse
Other useful websites include:
Support for perinatal depression
Centre of Perinatal Excellence
Children of Parents with a Mental Illness