Perinatal mental health

At Pandora Parent Group we acknowledge that parenting is not always easy and it is a high risk time for parents to experience mental illness.  Most people understand perinatal (ante-natal+post-natal=perinatal) as post natal depression or anxiety.  Pandora Parent Group is proudly connected to Hope’s Room Limited, an organisation that works with parents to reduce the impacts of perinatal mental illness.  If you think you might be suffering extra stress, depression or anxiety please visit Hope’s Room Limited’s website or call your GP or 000.

Below is a list of possible mental illnesses and their signs (things other people might notice) and symptoms (things you might feel):

Post Natal Depression

Post Natal Depression, or PND, is typically suffered by a mother following childbirth, usually arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue.  However, it can also affect fathers, largely due to the psychological adjustment, fatigue and other stressors like finances.

What’s amazing about this affliction is that it does not discern and it does not discriminate.  It has occurred over years and years, occurs in all cultures, all socio-economic classes and to women and men of all ages.  It is linked with pregnancy, which means it can affect parents who have had a miscarriage, stillborn, premature baby, natural or caesarean delivery.  Typically, it presents itself after the first pregnancy, and can be found in subsequent pregnancies.  In fact, after any form of depression it is believed that women have between a 25 and 50 per cent chance of experiencing PND.

As mentioned earlier, PND doesn’t discriminate, which means it doesn’t discriminate based on gender either.  In fact, it is believed that between 3 and 10 per cent of men experience depression during the perinatal period (birth to 1 year).  Paternal PND is not recognised as a disorder in psychological/psychiatric diagnostic literature.  While it is believed the symptoms of paternal PND are similar to those experienced by women, paternal PND is believed to be more varialbe and inconsistent than maternal PND.  The symptoms of PND below show the potential differences in behaviour between paternal and maternal PND.

PND presents itself in the following symptoms:

Psychological symptoms:

  • No pleasure in things that used to be pleasurable
  • Feeling persistently low or sad
  • Feeling guilty
  • Inability to cope
  • Feeling of exhaustion
  • Negative obsessive thoughts
  • Fear of being alone
  • Memory difficulties and loss of concentration
  • Feeling guilty and inadequate that is not swayed by reassurance
  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • Frank thoughts or ideas
  • Fear for baby’s or partner’s safety
  • Thoughts of self harm or suicide

Physical symptoms

  • Sleep disturbance unrelated to baby’s sleep needs
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Crying without reason, or wanting to cry
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of libido
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Feeling of sickness or upset in stomach
  • Fainting
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision

Symptoms of PND in men include those listed for women, but can also include:

  • A tendency to take risks
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Feeling disconnected from partner, friends or family
  • Withdrawal from close relationships with family and friends
  • Increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal from family
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment for depression.

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Anxiety

Anxiety tends to go hand in hand with PND.  However, some parents find anxiety is a far greater influence than depression.  Most parents experience anxiety, which is normal and understandable – parents suddenly have a precious new baby to consider and worry is inevitable.  However, excessive worry accompanied by any of the symptoms listed below may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder.

Psychological symptoms

  • Anxiety or fear that interrupts your thoughts and interferes with daily tasks
  • Anxiety and persistent worries that keep coming into your mind
  • Constantly feeling irritable, restless or ‘on edge’
  • Finding it difficult to relax and/or taking a long time to fall asleep at night
  • Anxiety or fear that stops you going out with your baby
  • Anxiety or fear that leads you to check on your baby constantly.

Physical symptoms

  • Panic attacks (extreme overwhelming fear and/or panic that feel uncontrollable)
  • Muscle tension
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest
  • A feeling of inability to take a full or deep breath
  • Heart palpitations or quickening of heart rate

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Sometimes, a woman’s experience of childbirth can be particularly difficult, unexpected and traumatic, which can be a potential trigger for the development of PTSD.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Re-experienced childbirth in dreams and flashbacks
  • Fear of reoccurrence in subsequent pregnancies

Physical Symptoms

  • Persistent avoidance
  • Increased arousal/stress response
  • Sleep disturbance

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Post Natal Psychosis (Puerperal Psychosis)

Post Natal Psychosis (or puerperal psychosis) is an uncommon, sudden onset disorder that effects 1 to 2 women in every 1,000 most often within 2 to 3 weeks of childbirth. The symptoms listed below can present themselves in a woman who has had a previous episode of psychosis or bipolar disorder.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Confusion of thinking
  • Imagining things
  • Hallucinations
  • Fearfulness and worrying (often about the baby)
  • Mood swings.
  • Inappropriate emotions. Extreme elevated mood and energy may lead to manic behaviour
  • Feeling of strength, invincibility, power
  • Thoughts of harming self, the baby or other family members

Physical Symptoms

  • Restless
  • Agitated behaviour
  • Inability to sleep
  • Behaviour may appear out of touch with reality (psychotic), suspicious, or inappropriate.
  • Irritable

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Help

There is help available from many difference sources if you or your partner are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.  It is important to seek help for yourself and your partner.  The earlier you start to treat depression and anxiety, the easier it is to treat and sooner it is alleviated.  Visit Pandora Parent Group’s ‘When you need help…’ page for information on where you can find help.  The first port of call is your GP, your pharmacist or your natural health therapist.  It’s difficult to start the conversation about needing help but once you’ve started talking, the relief is amazing.

NB: Pandora Parent Group does not offer medical advice or treatment, please contact your health care professional for assistance with mental illness.

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