Honest discussions about perinatal anxiety and depression

  • Adelaide and her partner with baby shortly after giving birth.
    Adelaide and her partner with baby shortly after giving birth.
  • Adelaide and her beautiful girl today.
    Adelaide and her beautiful girl today.

Let’s talk about a condition that affects one in five women in Australia.

Even before the arrival of her baby daughter, Adelaide Williams doubted her abilities to be a good mother. She worried constantly and her tearful moments grew more and more frequent.

Her clear anxiety raised more than a few eyebrows in Flora Hill, a small suburb located three kilometres south-east of the regional Victorian town of Bendigo. ‘Why are you not happy?’, they asked her. ‘You wanted this baby.’

Of course she did. The 32-year-old pharmacist and her partner had wanted a baby for the longest time but when she finally fell pregnant, she was overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy. She was terrified of becoming a mum and her distress seemed to grow as quickly as the little girl she carried inside her.

It was only when she burst into tears during a visit with her GP that she was given a diagnosis, a name for what had been causing her so much worry at a time when she felt she should have been filled with joy and excitement. Adelaide was suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression.

She was certainly not alone. Perinatal anxiety and/or depression affects up to one in five new mums. Perinatal refers to the time of pregnancy and the first year of parenthood. In a research study commissioned by Jean Hailes, only half of women aged 18+ had heard of and could explain the term. That may be changing as more women come forward to share their stories.

Perinatal anxiety and/or depression can be mild, moderate or severe. The triggers can be biological (think hormonal changes), psychological (the urge to be the ‘perfect’ parent) and social (perhaps no family support). It is a very common condition and it is treatable.

The difficulties faced by so many women like Adelaide convinced Janet Michelmore, CEO of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, to partner with PANDA and Gidget Foundation Australia, two organisations dedicated to perinatal mental health. As a veteran in the field of women’s health and wellbeing, Ms Michelmore saw the power in a collaborative effort to create a suite of resources designed to help support women, as well as their families and friends.

She believes that the release of these resources could lead to more open discussion around a condition that is all too common and yet can still live in the shadows.

‘I know it takes a huge amount of courage for women to break the stigma that can sometimes sit around this topic,’ explains Ms Michelmore. ‘But early intervention is of huge benefit and it’s important for all women, especially those living in remote, rural or regional settings who might not have quick and easy access to professional help, to talk to someone they trust.’

In the beginning, Adelaide Williams worried about how her neighbours would respond to her condition but in sharing her story, she has found a liberating sense of peace. ‘There is no right or wrong,’ she explains. ‘There is no “you must be feeling this or that”. It is okay to not be excited and look for help.’

Find helpful resources and more information by visiting: www.jeanhailes.org.au/perinatal-depression-and-anxiety-resources

While not specific to perinatal anxiety, Jean Hailes new anxiety webpages provide practical information about managing anxiety: www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/mental-emotional-health/anxiety

Read another article about perinatal anxiety: www.jeanhailes.org.au/news/could-postnatal-depression-be-anxiety

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