Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men struggle with antenatal depression and more than 1 in 7 new mums¹ and up to 1 in 10 new dads² experience postnatal depression each year in Australia. Anxiety is just as common and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time. Caring for someone with perinatal (during pregnancy or after birth) depression or anxiety can be confusing, stressful and demanding.
Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
The signs and symptoms can vary and may include:
- Panic attacks (racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Changes in appetite: under or overeating
- Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
- Extreme lethargy: feeling physically or emotionally overwhelmed
- and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after baby
- Memory problems or loss of concentration (‘brain fog’)
- Loss of confidence and lowered self esteem
- Constant sadness or crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Fear of being alone with baby
- Irritability and/or anger
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Loss of interest in sex or previously enjoyed activities
- Intrusive thoughts of harm to self or baby, thoughts of death or suicide.
What’s it Like for Carers?
Caring for someone struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression can be distressing and confronting. You might feel:
- Confused or uncertain about what to say or do to help: “I don’t know what to say in case I make things worse”
- Useless: “Nothing I say or do seems to help!”
- Frustrated and angry: “Why are they being like this when
- I am trying so hard?”
- Overwhelmed: “It’s all too much!”
- Alienated: “I don’t know how to relate to this experience”
- Unsure about how or when to help: “Am I interfering?
- Should I be helping more? Should I be letting them
- have space?”
- A sense of loss: “When is the person going to ‘be their
- old self’?”
- A loss of support: “The person I used to closely rely
- on is no longer there for me”
Tips for carers:
• Anxiety and depression are genuine illnesses. Try not to take any out of character behaviour personally
• Focus on providing practical help and gentle emotional support. Be guided by the person you are supporting as to how much, and what sort of help, they need
• Remember that you are the support person, but not the health professional. You don’t need to take responsibility for providing medical advice or making treatment decisions. Make sure that the person you’re caring for has a good medical team around them
• It can help people with anxiety or depression to have someone they trust with them at medical appointments. Ask if they want or need this kind of help or someone to discuss treatment options with. Try not to be judgmental about their decisions, particularly those around medication.
Focus on providing practical help and gentle emotional support.
Getting Help and Support
• If you are worried about your partner, family member or friend, encourage them to phone the PANDA Helpline or talk with their GP, midwife, obstetrician or child health nurse.
• Partners and carers can also call the PANDA Helpline. Having support in your role as a carer is important.
• If you are worried about the safety of someone close to you please do not leave them alone. Stay with them and seek medical help via a GP, mental health team or local hospital. You can phone 000 if you are concerned about their immediate safety.
¹ Deloitte Access Economics. The cost of perinatal depression in Australia. Report. Post and Antenatal Depression Association 2012.
² Paulson, J. F. & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: A meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(19), 1961-1969. (doi:10.1001/jama.2010.605)