Caring for someone with perinatal anxiety or depression can be confusing, stressful and demanding (perinatal refers to the period during pregnancy and up to one year after birth).
It is important to understand that perinatal anxiety and depression is a common and serious illness that can affect any individual and their family, regardless or culture or age. Sometimes more than one family member can be diagnosed with perinatal anxiety or depression. With this in mind, it is important to know the signs and symptoms and to seek help early.
Effects of perinatal anxiety and depression
Perinatal anxiety and depression can impact enormously on all areas of wellbeing: physical, emotional and social. Overwhelm, exhaustion, loss of confidence, fear of leaving the house or being with other people can all take its toll. Relationships suffer (including with partners, family and friends) and the longer an unwell parent goes without seeking treatment the more likely the other parent will experience a mental health decline.
From a parenting perspective, it is really hard to find the patience, desire and capacity to connect with babies, children and loved ones when you’re anxious and depressed. It is difficult to be a parent if you are feeling agitated, unsettled or lacking in motivation. This is why seeking help early is so important.
Antenatal anxiety and depression
When anxiety or depression occurs during pregnancy, it is referred to as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression. Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience antenatal depression. Anxiety is thought to be just as common, and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time.
Postnatal anxiety and depression
When anxiety or depression begins in the year after birth, it is referred to as postnatal anxiety or postnatal depression. More than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression each year in Australia. Postnatal anxiety is thought to be just as common, and many parents experience anxiety and depression at the same time. Postnatal anxiety and depression can be a frightening and isolating experience as parents try to deal with their symptoms at the same time as needing to care for their new baby.
Impacts of perinatal anxiety and depression on carers and partners
Caring for someone struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression can be distressing and confronting. You might feel:
- Confused or uncertain about what to say or do to help: “I don’t know what to say in case I make things worse”
- Useless: “Nothing I say or do seems to help!”
- Frustrated and angry: “Why are they being like this when I am trying so hard?”
- Overwhelmed: “It’s all too much”
- Alienated: “I don’t know how to relate to this experience”
- Unsure about how or when to help: “Am I interfering? Should I be helping more? Should I be letting them have space?”
- A sense of loss: “When is the person going to be their ‘old self’?”
- A loss of support: “The person I used to closely rely on is no longer there for me.”