`Tell someone who cares’ is the theme for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Action Week (8-14 November). The message is not lost on Clinical Nurse Annette Brown who experienced perinatal depression after the birth of her daughter. Annette is urging friends and family to reach out to new and expecting parents, so they know they are not alone.
A few weeks after the birth of her daughter, Annette Brown began to feel something wasn’t quite right.
Each day was morphing into a lonely battle for the then midwife and mental health nurse, who was living in a remote Aboriginal community in South Australia, with her newborn and one-year-old son.
With her husband away working, Annette was navigating motherhood solo, with limited resources and her only support on the end of a phone.
“It was like a simmering agitation,’’ Annette said.
“My parents would ring to see how I was, but I didn’t want to tell them I was struggling and just surviving each day, so I didn’t say anything at all.’’
Then came the weight loss, anxiety, negative self-talk and the unrelenting feeling of hopelessness.
Annette knew all the signs and was concerned for her wellbeing, but it wasn’t until a GP visited the community that she opened up.
“I told her I felt like I was in a big black hole that I couldn’t seem to get out of, and she told me I was describing postnatal depression,’’ she said.
Looking back, Annette attributes her struggle to the unresolved trauma of the loss of her first child, born stillborn, and the health difficulties her son faced in the months after his birth.
“My daughter was fine, she was healthy, but it was everything else; I hadn’t dealt with any of it,’’ she said.
When Annette and her husband moved to Roxby Downs months later, she launched Women of Roxby Downs, a support group for other mums experiencing similar challenges.
“Having other people to talk to, so you don’t feel you’re in it alone, is half the battle really,’’ said Annette, who is today a Clinical Nurse with Centacare’s Targeted Intervention Service (TIS).
Eight in 10 women Annette meets through TIS experience perinatal anxiety or depression, which is largely unspoken. Nationally, it affects one in five new mums and one in ten new dads.
TIS provides critical in-home supports for families with children aged 0 to 18, where early child wellbeing or safety risk factors have been identified.
Common challenges include childhood trauma, generational dysfunction, unemployment, drug and alcohol misuse, and domestic and family violence. These exacerbate the risk of perinatal challenges in the period from pregnancy to the first year after birth.
Annette said she had seen perinatal challenges manifest eating disorders, lifelong depression and, most commonly, poor attachment between parent and child.
“ A lot of times the mums we work with think they are just tired or, because they’ve not had good experiences with mainstream health care, they don’t prioritise their own needs for a variety of reasons.
“If it goes on longer than a month or two, it becomes a problem, because you are not getting any enjoyment out of parenting, you’re just going through the motions.’’
Annette said normalising perinatal and postnatal depression is essential and supports the chances of recovery: “The stigma around mental health, especially in parenting, still exists.
“We try and remove some of the barriers to mothers getting help, so they realise they are not alone and it’s not unusual to be feeling this way.’’
In Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Action Week, Annette is encouraging people to check in on family and friends with very young children.
“Ring them, talk to them, and offer your help because having a baby can be a really isolating and lonely time,’’ she said.