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Postnatal depression (PND) is more common than you may think. In fact, each year about 40,000 Australian women - or one in seven new mums - experience this condition by the time their child is three months old.
Despite its widespread nature, there is still a great amount of mystery surrounding PND - and it's important to try unravelling as much of that as we can. The more awareness we all have of the risk factors, symptoms and treatments for depression, the more able we are to notice if a loved one needs help, or reach out for support and receive help ourselves in a way that works for each of us.
Here are seven things you might not know about PND.
1. Postnatal depression is the same as any other depression
It's just that in the year after the birth of your baby (which is when depression is classified as postnatal), your mental health can be more vulnerable - hence the specific focus on this time of your life, and even during pregnancy. If you've experienced depression in the past, you're more at risk of having PND, and vice versa.
The good news is that the awareness that comes with this can help some people manage their depression throughout different stages of their lives.
2. There are more options for help than ever before
With more awareness and research come more options for seeking help, which range from speaking to someone about how you're feeling to receiving treatment. Some of the options include visiting your GP, seeking psychological assistance, undergoing psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), medication prescribed by a health professional, calling a helpline (you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14), or even trying new online help in the form of MumMoodBooster.
If you're a Bupa health insurance member on hospital or hospital and extras cover, you can also access the Parent and Baby Wellbeing Program, which supports parents who are feeling overwhelmed or struggling to cope after the birth of their child. This program includes confidential consultation, diagnosis and ongoing support.
3. PND affects different people in different ways
For some, depression can be mild and experienced more as a niggling low mood or numbness that creeps up. For others it can be more severe to the point it disrupts day-to-day life. Generally, if you've been feeling this way for 2 weeks or more, whether it's severe or mild and everything in between, it's time to ask for help.
Sometimes it's hard to know how you'll feel after having a baby. Your partner and others close to you can act as your support network too, and raise any concerns they might have.
4. Dads can experience PND, too
Somewhere between 3 to 10 per cent of new dads are diagnosed with postnatal depression, with similar symptoms to those experienced by their female counterparts. The risk factors for men are similar too, and can include social isolation, a lack of emotional support, difficulty adjusting to this big life change, lack of sleep or more. Keeping an eye out for each other is always worthwhile.
5. There are measures you can take to help prevent PND
Experts say that preventive actions can work for some, like eating well, exercising regularly, managing your expectations and taking some time out for yourself can often be helpful. For some, these measures could mean the difference between depression and staying afloat, while others might experience PND despite all efforts against it.
Either way, having that awareness and looking after your physical and mental health during and after pregnancy is a good thing.
6. You might be surprised by who else has been down this path
Those who choose to open up about their pregnancy mental health challenges are often surprised that others in their life say, "Me too". You don't always know the personal challenges people are facing, and with so many thousands diagnosed with depression each year, it's likely that someone you know has been there.
7. If you have PND, you're not a bad parent
Many mums are worried about being judged for experiencing depression, and this is an understandable concern. The truth is, feeling this way doesn't make you any less of a parent. With some help, you can feel better and more equipped to cope with the joys and challenges, just like any other new parent.
This article brought to you by BUPA.