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Perinatal depression and anxiety – symptoms and treatment

Woman experiencing perinatal depression and anxietyUp to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression, which occurs during pregnancy (or during a partner’s pregnancy). And up to 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men experience postnatal depression, which occurs after the birth of a baby. Postnatal anxiety is just as prevalent and many parents experience depression and anxiety at the same time.

It is a heartbreaking statistic but there are ways to treat perinatal depression and anxiety (the term used to describe both antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety) and there are good outcomes for those who seek treatment, the early the better.

But how do you know if you, or someone you know, is experiencing perinatal depression and anxiety? What are the symptoms and where can you go for help and support? What are the treatment options?

Perinatal depression and anxiety

Who is at risk of perinatal depression and anxiety?

There are certain factors that put some people more at risk of developing perinatal depression and anxiety. However, it is important to note that anyone can experience antenatal or postnatal depression, even those who have no specific risk factors. No one knows exactly why it happens, it just does.

Here are some factors that play a contributing role to the development of perinatal depression:

  • history of depression or anxiety
  • family history of mental illness
  • a previous pregnancy loss or infant loss
  • grief and loss issues
  • a difficult or complicated pregnancy
  • a traumatic birth or birth disappointment
  • a premature baby or baby requiring special care
  • issues with feeding
  • problems due to an unsettled baby
  • sleep deprivation
  • a pre-existing physical illness
  • relationship issues
  • family violence
  • childhood trauma
  • isolation and lack of support
  • lack of own mother or mother-figure

Symptoms of antenatal depression

Antenatal depression and anxiety begins during pregnancy. It is normal to have your ups and downs during pregnancy and to feel a degree of anxiety or nervousness about your unborn baby, the impending birth and labour and the realities of caring for a child. However, when these negative emotions begin to impact your day-to-day functioning it is a sign of antenatal depression, which can increase your risk of developing postnatal depression and anxiety.

If these symptoms remain for more than two weeks you should seek help immediately:

  • panic attacks
  • general and unrelenting anxiety about the wellbeing of your unborn child
  • the development of obsessive behaviour or compulsive behaviour
  • mood swings
  • constantly feeling sad or crying for no reason
  • feeling constantly nervous or ‘on edge’
  • having no energy
  • decreased interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • sleeping issues – too much or not enough
  • becoming withdrawn
  • not interest in sex or intimacy
  • easily irritated
  • problems focusing and concentrating
  • increase in drug or alcohol use
  • suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is depression that begins sometime in the first 12 months after a baby is born. It can also present as anxiety. Having a new baby is often overwhelming and sleep deprivation can have a terrible effect on a new parent’s wellbeing. But if you are experiencing any of the following for more than two weeks you should speak to a health care provider immediately.

  • panic attacks
  • ongoing, intrusive thoughts about the health and wellbeing of your baby
  • the development of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours
  • inability to focus or concentrate
  • extreme fatigue
  • sensitivity to touch and noise
  • problems sleeping, unrelated to the baby’s sleep
  • changes in appetite, no appetite or increased appetite
  • lack of self-esteem or confidence
  • loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed
  • fear of being left alone with the baby
  • anger
  • constant sadness and crying
  • thoughts about harm to yourself or to your baby
  • withdrawal from social groups and friends
  • increased alcohol or drug use
  • suicidal thoughts

Perinatal depression in men

For the most part, the contributing factors and symptoms of perinatal depression are similar for men and women. But there are some factors that contribute to the risk of developing antenatal or postnatal depression that are exclusive to, or more common for, men.

  • becoming a father for the first time
  • having a partner who is experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression
  • uncertainty about what is ‘expected’ of a modern-day father
  • feeling excluded from the parenting role and isolated from the mother
  • societal pressure on men to ‘be strong’ and ‘not show emotions’
  • worries about financial burden and stress at work
  • unmet expectations about the resumption of a sexual relationship after baby
  • in pregnancy, uncertainty on how to care for his partner and anxieties about impending changes to his life.

Treatment for perinatal depression and anxiety

Perinatal depression is experienced in different ways, and in differing degrees, by each individual. Because of this there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment.

The first step is always the same though – if you, or someone you know, is suffering from any of the above symptoms for more than two weeks you should approach a health care professional immediately. Treatments outcomes are excellent, and the sooner your start the better.

Once you talk to a health care professional they may recommend any (or all) of the following treatment options:

  • counselling or therapy
  • practicing self-care
  • medication

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The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA

If you are anyone you know if 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.

Visit www.panda.org.au for more information and useful resources.

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