In Part One of our Postnatal Depression Series we talked about how to tell if you, or someone you love, is suffering from postnatal depression and anxiety.

If you are concerned that either or both may be present, then see your GP or health professional (community nurse, psychologist) in the first instance. They can talk with you and assess whether depression or anxiety are present as well as offering support and advice.

Up to 1 in 10 expecting mums and 1 in 20 expecting dads struggle with antenatal depression, whilst more than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 20 new dads are diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia. And 40 per cent of new mums diagnosed with postnatal depression three months post birth, first experienced symptoms during pregnancy.

There are a range of treatment options, depending on the severity of the depression or anxiety, and the person’s preferences. These include:

  • Support and counselling.
  • Lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep, doing relaxing activities, eating well, getting out for walks.
  • Support in adapting to change and dealing with the sense of stress and loss and grief it can bring.
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT (learning to be aware of thoughts and underlying beliefs that might trigger low mood, such as high expectations of yourself, wanting to be 100% perfect or in control – not possible with a baby).
  • Inter-personal therapy (IPT) and couple therapy, focussing on resolving issues such as conflict or self-focussed behaviours which might be contributing. Attachment-based therapy can assist with relating to the baby.
  • Practising meditation or mindfulness i.e. being in the moment, which is relaxing and can help you enjoy your baby. There are now mindfulness-based therapies which can assist.
  • Complementary therapies.
  • Medication, such as antidepressants which can relieve depression and anxiety.

How to Support Mothers and Fathers

There are a number of ways you can support mothers and fathers affected by PND and anxiety. Here are some ideas:

  • Acknowledge there has been significant change in their life, with the stress and maybe sense of loss that goes with change.
  • Encourage them to get some sleep. This is most important e.g. sleep when the baby sleeps.
  • Remind them to be practical and accept reasonable help. If they are a couple, then suggest they share household chores as much as possible, even if one person is working; or accept help from family or friends.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help. It may also help to make the initial phone call for them or go with them to the appointment.
  • Ask a child health nurse or lactation consultant about ways you can help with night-time feeds so the mother can get as much sleep as possible.
  • Encourage both parents to be involved with the baby, and for each to have space to do this. Allow fathers to explore fatherhood without being watched over all of the time to allow his confidence to grow.
  • Be aware that fathers might become frustrated or anxious when they can’t “fix” the problem. This can be their nature.
  • Talk to them about how they are feeling.
  • Help them take time out as couple if there is a partner.

Things you can do if you have PND

  1. Focus on eating well, getting as much sleep as you can, and going for a walk regularly.
  2. Use relaxation techniques, meditation, mindfulness or self-hypnosis.
  3. If you have a partner, go to appointments together at times. This will involve both of you as a couple and with the child and give each of you the opportunity to talk to a health professional.
  4. Remember that it takes time to bond with the baby, to breast-feed, to learn the role of being a mum or dad, and so lessen the expectations on yourself.
  5. Let go of any tasks that you can, as well as the need to be in control all of the time!
  6. Share taking care of the baby so each of you can have some time out for yourselves, even if it’s only 15 minutes whilst having a shower or going for a walk. Time out is vital. Maybe you can involve other family members in caring for the baby to facilitate this too.
  7. If you have a partner, remember that just because each of you does things a bit differently, that doesn’t mean the other is wrong.
  8. Quit self-criticism and be kind to yourself.
  9. Seek out support from others (partners, family, friends, other mums or dads) e.g. new parents’ groups.
  10. Seek out professional assistance if you are concerned. Therapy or medication may be helpful or needed.

Overall, remember that we need to be a good-enough parent and not a perfect parent, and to value your own health and wellbeing and your role as a parent – it’s a tough job, but a rewarding one! Seek out other mums or dads through community groups, and also develop a good relationship with your GP and see a counsellor early on if you need support.

You can also call Beyondblue on 1300224636, or your local community or emergency mental health service for assistance.

Visit www.drcatehowell.com.au for more information and feel free to contact us if you would like to. The websites below may also be helpful.

Author

Dr Cate Howell CSM, OAM is a GP and therapist, researcher, lecturer and author. She has over 30 years of training and experience in the health area, with a special interest in mental health and assisting individuals experiencing life stresses or crises. Cate holds a Bachelor in Applied Science (Occupational Therapy), a Bachelor of Medicine, a Bachelor of Surgery, a Masters in Health Service Management and a Doctor of Philosophy (Medicine). She also has a Diploma in Clinical Hypnosis and has trained in Couple Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Interpersonal Therapy. She has travelled internationally to present research findings on depression and has been published in a number of academic journals. The author of three books, in 2012 Cate was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to medicine, particularly mental health, and professional organisations.

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