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Breaking Down Barriers - PANDA Week 7-13 November 2021

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

It is Perinatal Mental Health Week 7-13 November 2021 and Parents You've Got This is proud to join forces with PANDA to raise awareness for perinatal anxiety and depression. This year's PANDA Week theme is Breaking Down Barriers.

Now more than ever we need to ensure that every expecting and new parent knows that we all need help navigating parenthood and that we all at some time will need to ask for help.

Perinatal Mental Health Week is a time to raise awareness to ensure that parents in need know that they are not alone - together we can break down the stigma of mental health and support our fellow parents. 1 in 5 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads experience perinatal depression and anxiety, which is around 100,000 Australian parents each year. Covid has seen a significant increase in parents experiencing perinatal mental health issues.

Normal will never look like it did before COVID19. Perinatal Mental Health Week is a chance to start talking about our “new normal”. The pandemic forced us to re-imagine the way we live. This has been a huge challenge, but there are some changes that have helped us to begin breaking down barriers to better mental health for expecting and new parents. For the past sixteen years PANDA Week has raised awareness about perinatal mental illness and worked to reduce stigma so those affected can seek help.

This PANDA Week, we want to raise awareness and help the community and the health system to provide the best support possible for expecting and new parents who reach out for help. We need to work together to build a system where people who are struggling know that if they reach out for help, we want to help "breakdown the barriers" by helping you understand what perinatal anxiety and depression may look like.

Let’s talk about anxiety

When anxiety or depression occurs during pregnancy it is referred to as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression. Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression. The figures are even more stark in parents after the birth of a baby. More than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression each year in Australia. Anxiety is just as common, both during pregnancy and postnatally, and many expecting and new parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time. It is normal to experience a degree of anxiety and ‘ups and downs’ when expecting a baby and in the first 12 months. However, some people develop a more pronounced anxiety or lower mood (depression) which affects their daily life and functioning. There are treatments, supports and services available to help you through this experience. If symptoms last for more than two weeks, it’s generally understood that it’s time to seek support.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression

• 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 your baby

• The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours

• Abrupt mood swings

• Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason

• Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky

• Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy

• Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating, or sharing partner time)

• Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all, even when the baby is asleep

• Losing interest in sex or intimacy

• Withdrawing from friends and family

• Being easily annoyed or irritated

• Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)

• Engaging in more risk taking behavior (e.g. alcohol or drug use)

• Having thoughts of death or suicide.

How expectant parents describe the experience

Although the experience of antenatal anxiety and depression will be different for everyone, some common feelings and thoughts expressed by expecting parents include:

• “I’m not supposed to feel like this. Pregnancy is supposed to be a time of great happiness, so why am I so miserable?”

• “I felt numb and lacking emotional connection and it scared me.”

• “I couldn’t do anything. I found it hard even to leave the house, I felt so down.”

• “My whole relationship to my body changed, and I hated it.”

How new parents describe the experience

Parents who have postnatal anxiety or depression may describe some of the following experiences and thoughts:

• Anger or guilt about not having ‘normal’ feelings of maternal or paternal love

• Confusion or frustration about feeling low during a time when everyone is saying, “You must be so happy!”

• Being overwhelmed or confused by the advice or opinions of doctors, family or friends about how to manage their baby

• Wondering if their relationship with their partner will ever be the same

• Resenting physical changes to their bodies after childbirth and motherhood (“I was just a mum in some puked on dressing gown, day in day out”).

Factors which may contribute to perinatal anxiety and depression

There are many factors that can contribute to developing perinatal anxiety and depression which include:

• History of anxiety and depression

• Family history of mental Illness

• Previous reproductive loss (infertility, IVF, miscarriage, termination, stillbirth, death of a baby)

• Birth trauma

• Premature or sick baby

• Challenges with feeding and settling

• Sleep deprivation

• Pre-existing physical illness

• Financial stress

• Relationship stress.

Where can you go for help and support?

• Confide in your partner, trusted friend or family member

• Let your GP or other trusted health professional know what you're experiencing

• Talk to other parents who have recovered from perinatal anxiety and depression

• Call the PANDA Helpline to talk about your thoughts and feelings and explore options for support 1300 726 306

PANDA has some amazing resources and a fantastic short mental health list on their website

Information taken from: PANDA Anxiety & Depression In Pregnancy & Early Parenthood Fact Sheet PANDA website

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