Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Saving Lives

Perinatal Mental Health Awareness Saving Lives

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This week is both Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week and Perinatal Mental Health Week 2020 (8-14th Nov). Tweddle joins a chorus of government, industry and community voices to raise awareness of perinatal mental health. As a public hospital supporting expectant and new parents, we know how vital awareness is in fighting mental health stigma.

Research shows that 1 in 5 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads will experience perinatal depression and anxiety. Moreover, statistics show that depression and anxiety may be more common for mums and dads who have been depressed before, have less practical, emotional or social support or are feeling the burden of financial stress.

In addition, a difficult birth, a sick baby, a difficult transition to parenting or relationship difficulties are also well known indicators for potential perinatal mental health challenges.

It is well known that maternal depression is considered a risk factor for the socioemotional and cognitive development of children, but dads experience postnatal depression and anxiety too.

With approximately 80% of parents admitted to a Tweddle Residential program disclosing feelings of depression, it is crucial that upstream services like Tweddle’s are supported to disrupt mental health difficulties. Babies can’t wait, they need healthy parents today.

Research recently published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia involved dads participating in Tweddle’s Working Out Dads program. The study looked at the barriers and facilitators associated with engaging fathers in interventions targeting their physical and mental health. Barriers included being time poor, sacrifices to family and apprehension. Dads said they wanted to learn how to be a better dad and partner, but they needed support and encouragement.

A baby’s early experiences help to shape the brain, affecting lifelong health, behaviour and learning. The attachment relationship between infant and caregiver(s) is crucial to healthy development.

“Babies and toddlers need mentally well mums and dads to lay the foundations for future mental health and relationships.” said Tweddle Director of Clinical Services and Nursing Ms Kirsty Evans. “The emotional wellbeing of mums and dads accessing Tweddle services is paramount.”

New mum Jenny approached Tweddle in January, extremely distressed with a constantly unsettled baby.  Jenny experienced a traumatic birth followed up by postnatal depression and anxiety. Her Tweddle Day Stay carers escalated her to a Residential stay just prior to COVID-19 lock-downs.

Jenny confided that she had no childcare, felt isolated and her partner was not working. There were times when her baby wouldn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes and was taking up to 2 hours to get to sleep at night. She said that the confidence and reassurance that Tweddle has given her family was immeasurable.

Another parent, Caroline, turned to Tweddle during the pandemic lock-down period. “I came to Tweddle after 8 months of ups and downs with my daughter’s sleep. We struggled with her night-time sleep since the age of around 6 weeks, however being first time parents, we thought (and were told by lots of people) that it was ‘normal’ for babies to cry a lot and not sleep much.” she said.

“I was exhausted and found myself enjoying my time with my daughter less, being in lockdown and with little else to focus on, I became slightly obsessed with how to ‘fix’ her sleep and rectify what I was doing wrong. It was then I realised that my own mental health was suffering and I needed extra support.”

“This has helped my mental health immensely” she said. “A couple of months ago I was anxious, stressed and felt that I was doing everything wrong. Most importantly, I’ve gained confidence in myself as a parent, which has helped me be more patient and responsive to my daughter’s needs on the tricky days, and not be so hard on myself either. If I hadn’t had this support, I think my mental health would have deteriorated further.”

Tweddle offers residential, community based and telehealth parenting support and education for parents across Victoria.

According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, evidence-based interventions and preventative steps can be taken to support parents with mental illness, reduce risks to children and enhance their resilience.

Tweddle social workers and psychologists work closely with parents experiencing anxiety and depression. This Perinatal Mental Health Week, we invite you to help more parents, babies and toddlers thrive with a donation to the Tweddle Foundation.

For support with perinatal anxiety and depression, contact the following;

  • Tweddle 9-5pm Monday – Friday (03) 9689 1577
  • PANDA Australia – 1300 726 306 (Mon to Sat, 9am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT)
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
  • Gidget Foundation – 1300 851 758
photographer Helena Lopes
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