It’s Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week. This week I will be posting daily about PND: practical advice about how and where to get help, as well as more of my personal PND and anxiety story, and what I have learned from my recovery.
Today’s post is inspired by beyondblue’s Just Speak Up campaign, which encourages parents to reach out for help. I know how difficult it can feel to ask for help when you’re a new parent and you think you have PND, but there are some things you can do to ease the fear of speaking up. I’ve also put together a contact list of people and places who can help, which you’ll find at the end of this post.
To someone who has never experienced mental health issues, it might seem like it would be completely obvious to you if you did have PND. But from my own experience, and from the stories of many other women, discovering that you have depression or anxiety as a new mum can actually come as a big surprise.
New parenthood is an experience unlike any other. It’s also something that you probably had very little preparation for – I had only ever held a newborn baby one time before I held my own. And how can you possibly prepare yourself for zero sleep, crazy hormonal changes and the overwhelming concoction of love and responsibility that a newborn brings?
How do you know if you’re depressed or just insanely tired?
Before my PND diagnosis, I knew that I was struggling, but I wasn’t sure if it was a normal level of struggle – having a newborn was supposed to be really hard, right?
One day when Jack was about 5 months old, I was cleaning out the wardrobe in his nursery and I found a brochure about PND that had been given to me at one of my antenatal appointments. I flicked through the pages and skimmed the list of signs and symptoms. As I read through the list, I mentally ticked off every symptom. I had them all.
Later that day, I made an appointment to see my GP.
What are the common symptoms of PND and Anxiety?
According to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia), the common signs of Post Natal Depression include:
- Panic attacks (a 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
- Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
- Changes in appetite: under or overeating
- Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
- Extreme lethargy: a feeling of being 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
- Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
- Irritability and/or anger
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Loss of interest in sex or previously enjoyed activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
(For more information, and a list of the common signs of Antenatal Depression and Anxiety, read this factsheet from PANDA)
So you read through the list above, and you think you could have PND. Now what?
Now it’s time to ask for help.
Not as easy as it sounds, hey?
Here are some ideas to make the process a bit easier (from someone who’s been through it, twice).
1.Pick Your Safe Person
If you’re afraid of asking for help, choose one person – your “safe” person – and only ask them. Your partner, your best friend, your mum, your doctor or midwife. Pick the person who you feel most safe telling. Once you’ve broken the ice and told your person, you’ll probably find that it’s easier to open up to more people.
2. Ask Your Safe Person To Back You Up
Your safe person won’t necessarily be able to “fix” anything for you, but they can be your biggest advocate and your vocal supporter when you don’t feel like you have a voice. You could ask them to come with you to your GP to ask for more specialised help. Or they could sit with you while you tell someone else. They could even search for information and resources (like the ones below) if you’re too tired.
3. Be Honest
I learned this lesson the hard way. I said I was fine when I wasn’t, and I missed an opportunity to get help when I needed it most. Be completely honest about your feelings and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. People can only help you as much as you let them help you.
4. Write a Letter
If it simply feels too hard to speak up, you could try writing it all down in a letter. You can read it to the person, or you can just hand it over and let them read it. I usually find that writing out my feelings takes the power out of them. This can be really helpful if you’re someone (like me) who cries during these difficult conversations, or if you struggle to express yourself when you’re talking about something emotional or confronting.
5. Call a Helpline
We are very lucky in Australia to have access to so many incredible services for new or expecting mothers. PANDA and BeyondBlue have helplines that you can call for over-the-phone support or referrals to services in your area. If you’re not ready to talk face-to-face about your depression or anxiety symptoms, or you would prefer to talk to someone neutral, calling a helpline can be a great solution. Keep reading for a list of helpful services.
6. Search for the Answers You Need
Unfortunately, sometimes when you reach out for help, you might not get the response you were hoping for. You might unknowingly ask the wrong person, or the person may not recognise the level of pain that you are experiencing.
You deserve to be heard, so if you feel dismissed or invalidated, instead of acknowledged and accepted, it’s your right to look somewhere else for guidance. It can feel incredibly disheartening, but please don’t give up.
Asking for help is the first sign of bravery
Admitting to your loved ones, or medical professionals, or strangers on the internet, that you’re having a difficult time as a mother can be terrifying. But it’s never a sign of failure or weakness.
Asking for help doesn’t make you less of a mother.
You aren’t running away from the realities of motherhood; you’re dealing with them.
What I know for sure, is that asking for help takes courage and strength, and it will ultimately make you a better mother.
It also requires a deep level of compassion for yourself. Asking for help is an act of self-love.
Who can you ask for help?
The following list is a collection of helpful services and information sources for Australian mothers. If you live outside of Australia, you should be able to find local resources via a Google search. Alternatively, please talk with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
All information is correct at time of publishing (16 Nov 2015)
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
National Helpline 1300 726 306 (Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm AEST)
PANDA has some excellent factsheets about PND and anxiety here.
- Beyondblue Australia
National Helpline 1300 26 4636 (Available 24/7)
Chat online (3pm-12am AEST)
National Crisis Helpline 13 11 14 (Available 24/7)
- Kids Helpline
Young mums (under 25) can call the Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (Available 24/7)
Their website also has some great information for young parents, including info about your mental wellbeing.
- The Gidget Foundation
Gidget House provides a free professional psychological support service for pregnant women and new parents suffering anxiety and depression, in North Sydney.
Find a list of additional books and DVDs here.
Phone: 02 9460 1550
- The Black Dog Institute
Lots of detailed information about depression during pregnancy and early parenthood, as well as an extensive resource list for additional reading about PND.
- Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale
This is the 10 question screening test that is usually given to new mothers at their maternal health check up or 6-week postnatal check. You can access it on the Beyondblue website. It shouldn’t be used as a self-diagnosis tool, but it could be a good first step for you if you’re unsure if you’re experiencing PND symptoms.
The Karitane Careline is available 24/7 on 1300 227 464.
Tresillian has some excellent information about PND, stress and anxiety for new parents on their website. They also have a parent helpline that is available 7am-11pm, 7 days a week (1300 272 736).
- Mind the Bump App
This is an awesome FREE Mindfulness Meditation app created by Smiling Mind and beyondblue. It’s designed to help expecting parents to mentally and emotionally prepare for the arrival of their baby by learning mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness and meditation have been proven to be effective in managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can read more about meditation for mums here. Mind The Bump is available on the App Store and Google Play.
I hope this post has been helpful for you. I would love to have your support over on Facebook as I share more about PND and being PNDA Aware this week, and always.
Over to you, Mama ::
Have you experienced PND or Anxiety?
Do you have any advice for someone who is struggling right now?
Please leave me a comment below.