During Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week last week (12-18th November) we heard from a range of people who had experienced mental health issues during the perinatal period (i.e., during pregnancy or in the year following giving birth).
What I took away from hearing these stories, is that like all experiences of mental illness, everyone’s experience is so very different. And that’s usually where the commonalities end.
The severity of postnatal anxiety and depression depends on the number of symptoms, their intensity and the extent to which they interfere with getting on with day-to-day life. The combination and severity of symptoms will be different for every parent but might include:
- 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, wellbeing or safety of the baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive thoughts and/or 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
- Losing interest in intimacy
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Being easily annoyed or irritated
- Feeling angry
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
- Engaging in more risk taking behaviour (e.g. alcohol or drug use)
- Having thoughts of harming your baby
- Having thoughts of death or suicide.
We know that everyone experiences perinatal anxiety and depression differently. The way it can affect us depends on a range of factors, from our own physical, emotional and mental make up to external factors that might be having an impact.
There are also different degrees of the illness. Some people experience milder symptoms of antenatal anxiety or depression, while others have more severe symptoms. The common factor is that the illness is affecting our ability to enjoy your pregnancy and potentially impacting your ability to function at all.
Becoming pregnant and then a parent, brings a wide range of emotions, ranging from joy and excitement to stress and apprehension. The physical changes a person goes through can also affect our mood and feelings, and it’s common to experience more ups and downs that usual. But depression and anxiety is more than just a low mood and a little bit of worry – these are serious conditions that affect both the physical and mental health.
In many cases, if perinatal depression or anxiety isn’t recognised and treated quickly, it may get worse. This can interfere with a pregnancy and becoming a parent. These conditions have the ability to not just affect one person – they can also affect our relationships and our baby’s development.
That’s why it’s so important to speak to someone if you’re or someone close to you is finding it hard cope. The sooner that support is provided, the sooner we can all get on with enjoying the new family.
If you have questions or would like to speak to someone PANDA has a National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9am - 7.30pm AEST) - 1300 726 306