Postnatal depression is not only very real, it is very common. But for a varying range of reasons it is not something that is often discussed. Even less often discussed is the fact that postnatal depression affects not only mothers, but their partners as well. A new DVD produced by the Gidget Foundation and the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) is trying to change the way we look at postnatal depression and make it part of the conversation we have about childbirth.
The birth of my first child, Maisie, was a pretty amazing time and I will always remember her birth as one of the greatest days I’ve ever experienced. But I will equally remember the months after her birth as the single loneliest period of my life. I was the first of my peers to have a child, my father had died many years before and my only sibling with a child was a brother on the other side of the country. And, most importantly, my closest friend in the world, my wife, was distracted with the task of nurturing our new arrival.
I struggled very hard to find a role for myself in those early months and settled on becoming the provider, which only served to make me feel like a failure. Our house suddenly wasn’t big enough, our car wasn’t safe enough, I didn’t earn enough. I took on all this pressure until it exploded as hostility to those who were trying to help. If my mum came to visit I accused her of interfering, if my wife’s family offered to help us out financially I took it as a personal affront. And I felt I had absolutely nobody to talk to about any of this.
By the time our second daughter, Frances, was due, I suddenly found myself with a whole new set of anxieties. This time I was so afraid of feeling lonely after the birth that I almost blocked out the whole experience. Fortunately, second time around, I was much more prepared for the pressure that comes with parenting and I made sure I spoke to my wife about how I was feeling and was more prepared to admit that I couldn’t do everything. This helped me manage my anxiety so that the experience was much more enjoyable.
My experience is not unique. According to PANDA, one-in-five women and one-in-ten men suffer from some form of anxiety or depression after the birth of a child. In order to raise awareness of antenatal and postnatal depression, PANDA and the Gidget Foundation have made a documentary DVD called Behind the Mask. The DVD aims to de-mystify postnatal depression and drive home one simple point – help is available and the sooner you look for help, the sooner you can recover. The DVD is compelling because it contains a number of interviews with real people who have suffered from postnatal depression. Having suffered in silence, and discovered that help is available, these people are very keen to push the message that seeking help is the most important step to take. The interviews are intercut with informative discussions on issues such as how to recognise symptoms of postnatal depression, some of the causes and contributing factors and ways of dealing with it.
One thing the DVD does very well is to explode myths such as post natal depression being nothing more than ‘the baby blues’, extreme hormones or extreme tiredness; myths which can hide the symptoms and delay treatment. Filmmaker Oliver Peniston-Bird who made Behind the Mask says that depression is something that is more prevalent than many of us realise. “Everybody knows somebody who has or has had depression” she says. “What was interesting about making this documentary was how prepared the people we interviewed were to discuss their stories and to help other people. It seems so simple, but the very act of talking about the issue is the first step in treating it”.
When should I get help?
PANDA suggest that professional help should be sought if you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, anxious or struggling with their mood for a period of two weeks or more and this is impacting on their daily activities.
Who can help?
The most important thing is to resist the urge to hide behind the mask of being a coping, happy parent. You need to start talking about your concerns. This conversation can be with:
- Your partner, family member or friend;
- Professionals including your GP, Midwife, Obstetrician or Maternal Child and Health Nurse;
- PANDA’s National Perinatal Depression Helpline (1300 726 306).
A conversation with a health professional can make all the difference. A professional is able to assess your situation and recommend the best course of action for you. This will most likely include counselling and sometimes prescribed medication. They can also provide you with ideas for family support and practical help which can assist in your recovery and ensure positive long term emotional health.
What can partners do?
Postnatal depression affects the entire family. Men are more likely to suffer depression if their partners are suffering. It is important for men to create a support network outside of their partner at this time and to not let the added stress and responsibility contribute to depression or anxiety. Below are some tips suggested by PANDA to help partners of someone with postnatal depression:
- Do not forget that you need special attention at this time. Make sure that you have someone you can talk to about your concerns and frustrations, e.g. a trusted family member, friend or your doctor.
- Give yourself credit for what you are doing. It is okay for you to feel disappointed or frustrated about the situation without feeling guilty. It is natural to feel this way as things are not going the way you anticipated, however try not to let these feelings get the better of you by expressing anger and resentment towards your partner.
- Try not to feel that you have to do everything yourself. If you need a break, get a friend or family member to be with your partner and baby if necessary. Make sure that you get help as a family – postnatal depression affects you as a family and you should get help that benefits all of you.
- Don’t blame yourself; postnatal depression is no one’s fault.
- Get plenty of rest. If you are waking up frequently throughout the night to tend to the demands of the baby or your partner’s sleeplessness is disturbing you, you will need to catch up on your sleep at other times.
- Remember that this is temporary and your partner will recover with the appropriate help.
A trailer to “Behind the Mask” is available at http://www.youtube.com/user/pandaorgau.