Becoming a new parent is an exciting time. It can also throw up a number of challenges, especially if you’re living in a rural or remote area where you may be physically isolated from family and friends and from the kinds of services that people living in or near the larger cities and towns take for granted.
If you find yourself really struggling with the transition to becoming a parent, you may develop perinatal anxiety or depression, a serious and common illness that affects up to one in five new or expecting mums and around one in ten dads.
Signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression can include: constant sadness or crying; panic attacks; persistent, generalised worry; sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs; lethargy; loss of confidence and self-esteem; and withdrawal from friends and family.
This is exactly what happened to Jodie Harris.
“My closest town was 30 minutes away,” she says. “I couldn’t just pop my baby in the pram and go for a walk to the park or shops. Everything was a minimum 30 minute drive which usually ended up being a two-hour outing full of stress and tears – both mine and the baby’s.”
Perinatal anxiety and depression can occur anytime from the beginning of pregnancy through to one year after the birth. The illness can have devastating consequences for families, and can even put lives at risk. Jodie’s feelings of isolation, combined with having a baby with reflux who refused to feed, deeply affected her state of mind.
“I’ve had some prior traumatic experiences which started to surface during the last stages of the pregnancy and were playing havoc with my mental state,” Jodie said. “I was trying to push them aside, however they began to win and take over. I didn’t know who to reach out to. I repeatedly told my midwife I wasn’t coping; however, it was just put down to tiredness and the transition to motherhood.”
We know many rural and remote mothers (and fathers) struggle like Jodie did; and with a lack of local services and appropriate support, many try to ride it out. However, this can lead to the illness becoming worse. It’s far better to seek support as soon as your symptoms affect your ability to live normally and have lasted for two weeks or more. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can recover and get on with enjoying your new family.
Services in many rural and remote areas are often scarce, and in some areas, the health professionals you might talk to are known to you personally, or through family or work. Having difficult – often intimate – conversations about your struggles as an expecting or new parent with these people can be hard.
PANDA, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia, operates a national Helpline that takes calls from right across the country. The Helpline provides a safe, secure space to talk with a trained counsellor from the comfort and security of your own home. PANDA’s counsellors are compassionate and understanding, as well as experts in perinatal anxiety and depression.
When Jodie was in the depths of her illness, she didn’t know about PANDA’s Helpline, but wishes that she had. “I would have definitely called the Helpline if I’d known about it,” she says.
Jodie also experienced perinatal anxiety and depression with her second child. She and her family moved to be closer to Jodie’s mum, although they still live rurally. She was able to find services to support her, but it was hard: the fact of living in a rural area was still providing additional challenges.
Happily, Jodie has now recovered from her illness. She is using her experience of perinatal anxiety and depression to raise awareness as a Community Champion volunteer for PANDA.
You can call the PANDA Helpline on 1300 726 306 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 7.30pm AEDT/AEST)
PANDA operates two websites for mothers and fathers and their families to access information, resources and stories, including one specifically for men:
Need to talk to someone? If you need immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.