11th- 17th November 2018 is national PANDA week, PANDA stands for Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. This is women, men and families across Australia who are affected by anxiety and depression during pregnancy and the first year of parenthood. Their aim is to work together to help struggling parents and families to recover from depression and anxiety, a serious illness that affects up to one in five expecting or new mums and one in ten expecting or new dads.

This year’s PANDA week’s theme is ‘I wish I knew’. This refers to how many expected and new parents are blind-sided by the realities of becoming a new parent. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we know that many parents looking back think that had they have known more, they would have been more prepared for some of the challenges they faced.

There is a double-edged sword in society when it comes to pre-parental pressure. It’s common to hear “ it’s hard work!” but then there is also an old school expectation that struggling parents shouldn’t talk about their struggles because it somehow means that they are doing a bad job. It’s common to be warned about the financial strain that children put on a family. But no one warns expecting and new parents of the emotional challenges to come. This is a time that has previously been pitched as ‘the happiest time of your life’ so what happens if you’re suffering from crippling anxiety and depression?

If there’s one thing that we can vouch for from treating mums to be, it’s that everyone’s experience of pregnancy is different. The way their body handles it to the way their emotions flow and change also. It is common that there will be uncertainties and nerves, especially with a family’s first baby, but it is important to draw the line between common nerves and antenatal anxiety and depression. It is more than an emotion, it is a serious illness and it’s crucial that it is treated as such.

Signs to look for:  Perinatal anxiety and depression can present differently in each expecting parent, some of the more common symptoms are:

  • 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 or wellbeing of the baby
  • The development of obsessive or compulsive 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
  • Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviour (for example, alcohol or drug use)
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide, or self-harm.[i]

‘I put any negative feelings down to hormones, I realise now that it went beyond the normal worry and stress of pregnancy.  I found myself quickly all consumed by doubt and fear all the time.[ii]

Where to seek help:

It can be extremely hard to admit these feelings to yourself, your partner or to anyone. But if no one around you knows how you are feeling, they can’t provide you with the help and support that you need. PANDA works as Australia’s national hotline for parents in need. You can call 1300 726 306 Monday to Friday, 9 am to 7:30pm AEST, and if you’re needing urgent help outside of this time, contact 000.

If you are the loved one, partner, or carer looking after someone suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression, it can be easy to feel helpless and confused.

PANDA has provided the following tips on how to help support someone who is suffering:

  • Focus on providing practical help and gentle emotional support. Try and listen when your loved one expresses difficult or uncomfortable feelings or thoughts without jumping in to ‘fix it’, minimise it or ‘make it better.’
  • Ask your loved one what help might be useful for them. Avoid the temptation to rush in and take over.
  • Encourage your partner, friend or family member to open up to their GP, midwife, obstetrician or child health nurse – or call PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline 1300 726 306.
  • Perinatal anxiety and depression affects every area of wellbeing: motivation, decision making and view of self and others. It is probably not the best time to make big life decisions about things like your relationship, career or house.
  • Looking after your own physical, emotional and mental health is crucial if you hope to provide ongoing support to your partner, friend or family member with perinatal depression or anxiety. Exercise, a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption and sufficient sleep all make a difference.
  • Seek and accept offers of practical help from family or friends.[iii]

If you wish to support PANDA and the work that they are doing to support struggling families in need, you can donate here: http://www.panda.org.au/get-involved/donate.

The main things to take away from this is to get the conversations going and check in on someone if you are concerned about his or her wellbeing. If you are suffering please seek help, it’s never far away.

[i] http://www.panda.org.au/info-support/during-pregnancy/symptoms-of-antenatal-anxiety-and-depression

[ii] http://www.panda.org.au/awareness/panda-week

[iii] http://www.panda.org.au/info-support/for-carers-partners/tips-for-carers-and-partners