Written by The Home Doctor Cairns Team

Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness week seeks to raise awareness about perinatal anxiety and depression, what to look for and where to seek support.

It’s an illness that affects up to 1 in 5 expecting or new mums and 1 in 10 dads. Sadly, many still don’t know the signs and symptoms. “It’s absolutely critical that more people know about perinatal anxiety and depression so mums and dads can seek help and recover more quickly,” says PANDA.

Having a baby is an exciting time but it can be quite challenging too. While it is becoming more widely recognised and talked about perinatal anxiety and depression is still not understood. It can affect both men and women during pregnancy and in the year after birth.

When you’re a new parent it is easy to feel guilt and shame about the possibility of needing help. This often stops parents from seeking assistance. But it’s important to remember that having perinatal anxiety or depression does not make you a ‘bad parent’.

What is antenatal anxiety and depression?

Antenatal anxiety and antenatal depression occurs during pregnancy. While it is common for new parents to fee anxious when there is a new baby on the way antenatal anxiety and depression are more severe and persistent.

Depression and anxiety during pregnancy can occur in up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men. With many experiencing anxiety and depression at the same time.

Symptoms of antenatal anxiety and depression

Common symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Persistent, generalised worry
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Constant feelings of sadness or feeling low and crying for now obvious reason
  • Unexplained nerves
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of interest in things that normally bring joy
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping well
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What is postnatal anxiety and depression?

Anxiety or depression which begins in the first year after birth is called postnatal anxiety or postnatal depression. It is also very common with more than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 10 new dads in Australia.

Symptoms of postnatal anxiety and depression

Common symptoms of postnatal anxiety and depression can include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Persistent generalised worry, often fears of health or wellbeing of the baby
  • Developing obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Sensitivity to noise or touch
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep problems (unrelated to baby)
  • Extreme lethargy
  • ‘Brain fog’
  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • Constant sadness and crying
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Fear of being left alone with baby
  • Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
  • Irritability or anger
  • Loss of interest in activities which previously brought joy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What is Postnatal Psychosis?

Postnatal psychosis is an acute mental illness which occurs within the first four weeks after giving birth (sometimes up to 12 weeks post birth).

It is relatively rare, affecting only 1 or 2 in every 1,000 women. It is serious and potentially life-threatening, putting both mother and baby at risk.

Women suffering from postnatal psychosis will generally be admitted to hospital for specialist assessment and treatment.

Symptoms of postnatal psychosis

Symptoms are generally sudden and can include:

  • Extreme sudden mood swings
  • Aggressive or violent behaviour
  • Highly agitated
  • Irrational or delusional thoughts or beliefs
  • Hallucinations and changes in sense perception
  • Paranoid or strange beliefs about the baby that cannot be countered by rational discussion
  • Grandiose or unrealistic beliefs about ability as a mother
  • Unusual or inappropriate responses to baby
  • Disordered on nonsensical thoughts or conversations.

Contributing factors

The following factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression:

  • History of anxiety or depression
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Previous reproductive loss
  • Difficult or complex pregnancy
  • Birth trauma
  • Premature or sick baby
  • Feeding or settling challenges
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Pre-existing physical illness
  • Financial stress
  • Relationship stress
  • Family violence
  • Lack of support
  • Childhood trauma or neglect
  • Isolation or lack of social connections
  • Loss and grief issues
  • Absence of own mother or mother figure

How to get help

If you’re concerned for yourself or a loved one you can:

  1. Confide in your partner, friend or family
  2. Talk to your GP or trusted health professional
  3. Talk to other parents that may have experienced similar
  4. Call the PANDA Helpline on 1300 726 306