This is an artist’s impression of one pregnant woman’s journey through anxiety and depression. This is not an individual woman’s story, it is intended to represent the thousands of stories PANDA’s counsellors hear on the PANDA National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline every year because mental illness during pregnancy (the antenatal period) is more common than many people realise.
Anasuya and Mikolaj had wanted a baby so much. They had tried for such a long time and when Anasuya finally became pregnant they were both over the moon with joy.
But for Anasuya, that initial feeling of happiness slowly turned to dread. Over the next couple of months she felt like she was falling into a deep well. She felt on edge and panicked. She started having abrupt mood swings and withdrawing from her family and others around her, including her partner Mikolaj.
Anasuya was experiencing antenatal anxiety and depression. Many people are surprised to learn that anxiety and depression can occur during pregnancy (the antenatal period) and is actually quite common. One in five expecting mothers struggle with antenatal anxiety or depression [1-4].
These illnesses are temporary and treatable but left untreated, they can have devastating consequences for women and their families. Women suffer for longer than they need to, and their illness can even carry on beyond the birth.
In the most severe instances it can even lead to suicide.
Anusaya felt trapped by her pregnancy, and in the middle of the night would lie awake thinking about how she could escape these dark feelings. She felt so guilty and was certain anyone who had these thoughts and feelings would be a terrible mother.
She wondered if her baby might be better off if it was never born. She even Googled having a termination. Doing this just made her more ashamed, and she withdrew from those around her even more.
Anasuya wanted to stop the relentless guilt and worry any way she could. She tried to send her mind back to the hours and days after she found out she was pregnant, and those feelings of excitement, joy and anticipation felt so far away.
The anxiety and despair felt bottomless, and at times she thought the only way to escape the darkness would be to die.
Her partner Mikolaj could see there was something deeply wrong, but he didn’t know exactly what, or what to do about it.
He felt lost, incredibly worried and so distant from his partner and their unborn baby who he loved so much.
After another terrible night filled with dark thoughts, Anasuya stopped Mikolaj as he made to walk out the door to go to work.
Through tears she finally told him about the scary thoughts she’d been having. Mikolaj was shocked, but also relieved to be told. At least they both knew now. The two of them decided together right then that they needed support.
After a quick Google search they found PANDA’s website. As Anasuya read some information and stories on the website Anasuya slowly felt a weight starting to lift off her.
What she had been feeling for months actually had a name – antenatal anxiety and depression. It was common, and most importantly, it was treatable!
Anasuya called PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline. A PANDA counsellor spent more than an hour listening to Anusaya tell her story and explain what was troubling her. The counsellor also connected her to a local doctor who knew about anxiety and depression during pregnancy.
Several days later Mikolaj called too, for some support of his own. It was the start of their journey to recovery.
If this piece has stirred up any thoughts or feelings that concern you, PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline provides a safe place to talk.
-Drawn by Melissa Vallence for PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia
The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA
If you – or anyone you know – is struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression, you can call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline (1300 726 306). The service offers counselling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia. The helpline operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 7:30pm EST.
Visit www.panda.org.au for more information and to access the Mental Health Checklists.