Why three-quarters of mums won't admit they're not coping

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If you were struggling, would you reach out?

New research reports that 74 per cent of mums don't want to admit they aren't coping, and therefore don't seek support or treatment.

But mental health challenges are common during pregnancy and following the birth of a baby: one in 10 women experience antenatal depression, and one in seven in the postnatal period. Anxiety is likely to be at least as common.

Yet so many of us find it hard to admit that we're struggling. Why is this?

Despite the cliché we've all heard, it's actually impossible to know what to expect when you're expecting. So sometimes when we're struggling we don't realise that this isn't just what it's like to be a parent, as Terri Smith, CEO of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), explains.

"There are a lot of mums who simply don't understand what is happening and have difficulty identifying that something isn't right," says Smith. "The transition to being a parent is probably the biggest transition people make in their life and in that complex phase, people can't recognise that something is wrong."

But the problem is that when a mental health challenge isn't identified, it can't be treated – as Smith says, "If you don't know something's wrong, you can't seek help."

PANDA says that 40 per cent of callers to their helpline have waited six months or more to seek help, and a lack of awareness is one key reason for this delay.

It's important that pregnant women and new mums and dads are aware of the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety – you can read more here or on PANDA's website.


Of course there are other factors at play too. Stigma exists around mental health challenges in general, and this seems to be a dominant problem when it comes to prenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety.

As mums, we tend to feel we should love every moment, find the experience wonderful and have everything come naturally, but this is not the reality for many of us.

"There are a lot of expectations around motherhood and what it means, and it's hard for a lot of women to reach out for help because they feel so badly about their experience," says Smith.

These fears can go further, too. "Mums often blame themselves when they're feeling this way – at the very least they can worry they'll be judged, and at the other end of the scale they might think that if they admit they're not coping then someone will take their baby away," Smith says.

So, what can we do about this difficulty in admitting that everything isn't okay? We need to support each other, look out for how we're each coping and talk about what's really going on for us.

"Fundamentally, we need our community to have honest conversations about mental health, just as we have around physical health complications," says Smith.

"If a new mum had a broken arm everyone would be rushing to her door, and the needs of women with perinatal depression and anxiety are no different."

If you need support, call PANDA's national helpline on 1300 726 306 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.