We live in a world where we are bombarded with images about how parenthood should be – soft lighting, happy smiles and perfectly groomed parents and kids. Sometimes it does turn out like this, but often it doesn’t. And for new mums and dads who are already struggling with their mental health, this disconnect between perception and reality can often make things worse.
It can also make it even harder to admit there’s something wrong when perhaps you’re not feeling or thinking the way you thought you should or would. There’s already enough stigma around mental health during the perinatal period preventing many mums and dads coming forward to seek help, that they don’t need further reason to delay seeking help.
At PANDA, we work tirelessly to ensure new mums and dads have the appropriate help and support when they are struggling with preparing for and transitioning into parenthood.
PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline conducts more than 10,000 conversations every year with expecting and new mums and dads whose lives have been affected by the illness. And one of the issues that regularly comes up in those conversations is the divide between people’s expectations of what parenthood will be, and the reality once it happens.
Every year, I believe we make significant progress towards further breaking down the stigma which affects sufferers of perinatal anxiety and depression and our annual awareness week provides a strong public platform to educate and promote further understanding of these common mental illnesses.
In fact, research released by PANDA this week confirms that the community is increasingly understanding and less judgmental when it comes to mums and dads suffering with perinatal depression and anxiety. Nine out of 10 people in Australia believe that perinatal depression and anxiety does not stop a woman from being a good mother, and four out of five believe it is not a sign of weakness.
Alarmingly though, this public acceptance is not reflected in the feelings of a majority of callers to our Helpline. Most callers report that they feel shame about their condition, a feeling that is compounded by the idea that they are not meeting their own expectations as a mother or father.
It’s hard enough being exhausted and busy and having this new little life to care for. Feeling that you are failing as a parent and not meeting unrealistic expectations imposed by yourself and others, just makes things worse.
In fact it can create enormous barriers to asking for help, meaning more parents are suffering in silence for longer, reducing their enjoyment of what could be a very special time and potentially even putting their lives at risk.
During Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week, let’s work together to break down this disconnect between expectations and reality. Let’s raise awareness about the joys and challenges of parenthood so more people struggling with mental health issues during pregnancy and early parenthood know the signs and seek help early.
Signs and symptoms of perinatal depression and anxiety include panic attacks, persistent, generalised worry, development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours, abrupt mood swings, feeling constantly tired, withdrawing from friends, difficulty focusing, feeling constantly sad or crying for no reason and having thoughts of death or suicide.
The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA
If you – or anyone you know – is struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression, 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.