How to deal with postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA)
Author: Christine Barnes
According to a 2019 study, one in five Australian Mummas (and one in ten Australian fathers and partners) will experience some kind of postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA). So the chances are that one or two of the Mummas in your mother’s group might be affected by it.
We spoke to clinical psychologist Christine Barnes, from the Gidget Foundation Australia, to find out the best way to deal with postnatal depression and anxiety.
1. Start talking
This is, in fact, the most important step and sometimes the most difficult to do. Early diagnosis and intervention is key, so if you feel like you haven’t been yourself for two weeks or more, now is the time to start talking.
Reaching out to others and realising these feelings are not going away by themselves can be hard and it can be even harder to acknowledge to others, but talking to someone who cares is the first step to addressing this diagnosable and very treatable condition.
Talking also reduces the feeling of loneliness and the stigma attached to having this diagnosis. You could even enlist a friend to make the call for you if feel that you just can’t.
2. It takes a village
Postnatal depression and anxiety is the result of a combination of factors – biological, psychological and social – so all these need to be addressed. It can help to take on the idea of ‘It takes a village’, where you get the practical and emotional support you need from different people in the different areas of your life, as well as possibly some new ones.
This ‘village’ could include family, partners, friends as well as your GP, midwife, social workers, obstetrician, psychologists, early childhood nurse or specific organisations that help families in distress in the perinatal period. These could include Karitane, Tresillian, Gidget Foundation or PANDA [include links].
3. Consult a health professional
Seeing a perinatal specialist for psychological help can be very effective. Gaining an understanding of how PNDA works, how common it is, the effect it has on you and learning strategies to cope with these feelings can get you through this difficult time.Sometimes medication or alternative therapies can assist in lifting mood and to lessen anxiety. Involving your partner can also be an essential part of recovery (if deemed appropriate by you and your specialist).
You can make a call to organisations like PANDA to access their information online or approach your GP for a referral to a psychologist. Mental Health Care Plans are available from your GP and with some organisations such as the Gidget Foundation Australia you will get 10 sessions either subsidised or free.
4. Get practical support
Getting some practical help can lighten your load; this can be hard if you have always been an independent person, however, getting support is absolutely encouraged to be able to give you a break.
This could mean asking your partner for extra help, or a friend or family member or even outsourcing if you have no family around. Getting the ironing or shopping done for you, or having a meal cooked or taking a walk by yourself in fresh air or being able to do some exercise will feel good. Having a catch up with a good friend that you don’t have to put an “I am OK” mask on for will feel good. Going on a date night with your partner may feel good.
The ability to rest and recharge is important in this early time of recovery. Being able to allow yourself to leave the washing for an extra day or have the house a bit dusty is OK. The priority needs to be you first and foremost and then working towards being able to enjoy life as a parent. Well, most of the time anyway!
5. Listen to yourself and be active in your recovery
With exhaustion, low energy and lack of motivation often seen with PNDA, being active in your recovery can be hard but is crucial for a more effective recovery.You can discuss the different ideas/strategies known to help others and adapt to your own life with your treating specialist. Being kind and compassionate to yourself can also be a challenge as those with PNDA often feel guilty and regretful about feeling this way. Some active steps to take include:
- Understanding that having PNDA is not your fault and taking some steps to manage it will help you feel more positive and enhance your emotional well- being. Imagine your friend has PNDA. What would you do to help her?
- Doing daily exercise increases endorphins, our natural feel-good hormones, so make a realistic plan for exercise you enjoy.
- Taking fish oil supplements for mild to moderate depressive symptoms can also lift mood. Magnesium can also assist sleep.
- Eating a well-balanced diet is also important as increasingly we see research indicating links between gut health and mood disruptions.
- Applying mindfulness techniques is a proven way to increase feelings of well-being. It focuses us on the present and is a core skill that can decrease depressive and anxious feelings. This doesn’t have to be a sit-down meditation; your health professional can discuss the different methods with you and maybe even practice some relaxation exercises.
- Again, some breathing techniques can reduce stress and anxiety, but it is best to consult with your specialist about which ones actually work and tailor them to suit your needs. Various apps can also be useful, such as Smiling Minds and Headspace. We all have the capacity to be mindful.
So being active in your recovery and choosing strategies that you can and actually will use will help you manage PNDA now and in the future will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel knowing recovery is absolutely possible.
Something For Mumma supports Gidget Foundation through our Give-Back programme, find out more here.
Photo credit @claireholt