A new survey has shown that one third of people believe new parents are too quick to diagnose themselves with postnatal depression.

A new survey has shown that one third of people believe new parents are too quick to diagnose themselves with postnatal depression. Photo: Getty Images

There’s a stereotype that older mothers are, well, pretty highly strung. They’ve waited so long to have their kids that when they do, the pressure is too much, and they become overly stressed by their ideals and plans – or so the story goes.

But a new survey suggests it might actually be younger mothers who experience more stress.

Do we really have so many substandard parents slowly stuffing up their kids lives, or are we being way too hard on ourselves? 

All up, 42 per cent of mothers found the experience of parenthood much more stressful than they expected (compared to 24 per cent of men), according to a survey of more than 1000 Australians, commissioned by the Mental Health Association NSW.

But it's younger parents who seem to be suffering the most. According to the survey, they're more likely to have more negative memories of their experiences of being a parent; nearly a third of them remembered feeling like other people were coping better than them, or having excessive worry and sadness.

That’s a whole lot of people finding parenthood scary.

Interestingly, overall the men seemed to be a lot more relaxed about the whole business than the women. About 66 per cent of the men surveyed said they were a good parent, compared to less than half of the women.

Less than half! Do we really have so many substandard parents slowly stuffing up their kids' lives, or are we being way too hard on ourselves?

The chief executive of the association, Elizabeth Priestley, says it’s completely natural for new parents to feel anxious or a little bit down as they adjust to their new roles as a parent.

“It becomes a problem when it starts to effect the way you function on a daily basis, when it becomes in fact that you can’t get up in the morning or are feeling completely unwell," she said.

Priestley says it’s important to talk about your anxieties, as well as more serious symptoms if they occur – although she cautions that not all people will have helpful advice (particularly if they haven't had a hard time themselves).

One statistic I found strange - and a little bit shocking - was that one third of people thought new parents are too quick to think they have postnatal depression.

It was recently postnatal depression awareness week, and the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) released their own report, conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, which found that perinatal depression will affect nearly 100,000 new parents in 2012.

That’s one in seven new mothers, and one in 20 new fathers.

These figures seem pretty high, but when you look at the type of pressure parents are under – both the physical and emotional pressure of caring for a new child, and the social pressure we appear to be placing on ourselves – perhaps they’re not that surprising.

Periods of depression are a pretty common part of life: it's likely that about a third of us will experience it at some time. 

Pregnancy can even trigger more serious mental illness. About one in every 1000 women experience psychosis as new mums, a terrifying experience made worse by the lack of hospital-based services that allow women to stay with their children if they need to be admitted to care.

In NSW, the disgraceful lack of public hospital mother and baby units means some women can be forced to give up their child if they experience psychosis and have no partner or family members who can care for the baby while they're in hospital.

Compared to that, anxiety and depression might not seem so bad. But for the women and men living through it, it can feel like your whole world.

And, as the survey from the Mental Health Association found, it can be hard to know what to do about it. About 40 per cent of people aren't sure if they could recognise the symptoms of postnatal depression in another person, with men particularly unsure.

It’s just another example of how many of us still don’t feel confident talking about our own mental health problems, or asking someone else if they are doing okay.

But the reality is that parenting difficulties are incredibly common – from everyday stresses and anxieties through the more severe mental illnesses – and we should all be willing to share our stories and be honest about that fact.

For help, contact PANDA on 1300 726 306, or Beyondblue on 1300 224 636.

This article first appeared on Daily Life.