It’s been a rough week. First, a tiny, naked baby was found washed up on a Gold Coast beach. A few days later, a two-month-old girl was thrown from a car window in Bali and tragically killed.
Each tale stir ups grief, horror and disbelief, raising endless questions about the mental health of the children’s parents.
In the case of the latter, it’s been reported that the mother, a 32-year-old American in Bali, was suffering from postnatal depression. Shortly after allegedly throwing her baby from the car, she tried to jump out at a busy intersection and take her own life.
Postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) affects up to one in five expecting or new mums. Yet despite its prevalence, its rarely spoken about and misinformation is rife.
Here, writer Hanna Marton debunks some of the common misconceptions surrounding postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA).
M Y T H # 1
“WOMEN WITH PNDA NEED A PSYCHIATRIST”
Not all affected mums need time on a psychiatrist’s or psychologist’s couch. Phone-based peer support helps reduce PNDA symptoms, as per a study in the Journal Of Advanced Nursing. After about seven weeks of phone counselling with other women who had recovered from PNDA, just eight per cent of new mums were still depressed. “Phone counselling in the moment of need from home, with a level of anonymity, is less confronting,” says Jenni Richardson, spokesperson for the Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) National Helpline (1300 726 306).
M Y T H # 2
“PNDA IS ALWAYS CAUSED BY HORMONES”
Along with “pregnant women crave pickles and ice-cream”, the popular belief that hormonal changes lead to postnatal depression is a furphy. A 20-year study of 1000 women by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne found that in 85 per cent of cases, PNDA was a continuation of mental-health problems experienced earlier in life, usually dating back to a mother’s teenage years. Only one in 13 women with no history of mental illness reported PNDA, according to lead researcher Professor George Patton.
M Y T H # 3
“YOU CAN’T BREASTFEED WHILE ON ANTIDEPRESSANTS FOR PNDA”
Not only is it possible to take antidepressants while breastfeeding, it could even be beneficial. Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute followed 368 women who were on antidepressants prior to getting pregnant; one-third continued to take their meds throughout their pregnancy and while breastfeeding. “These women were much more successful at maintaining breastfeeding up to and beyond the recommended six months,” says researcher Dr Luke Grzeskowiak. In contrast, women who quit antidepressants were more likely to stop breastfeeding before six months.
POSTNATAL DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY (PNDA) CAN BE MILD, MODERATE OR SEVERE AND SYMPTOMS CAN BEGIN SUDDENLY AFTER BIRTH OR APPEAR GRADUALLY IN THE WEEKS OR MONTHS DURING THE FIRST YEAR AFTER BIRTH. IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING PNDA OR HAVE SYMPTOMS SIMILAR TO PNDA, CALL THE PANDA NATIONAL HELPLINE 1300 726 306 OR LIFELINE 13 11 14.
This story originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of marie claire.