Mental health of mums during the pandemic
Posted by Ariane Beeston on 27th April 2022
A new Australian study has highlighted the impact of the pandemic on perinatal mental health in Australia – particularly for mums in Victoria.
“Victoria experienced a rapid increase in cases and additional lockdowns and maternity care restrictions due to a second wave outbreak just prior to survey administration,” the authors note. “The additional distress experienced by Victorian women, seen here, may reflect this experience.”
The research, published this week in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that in their sample of over 2600 participants, 25 per cent of pregnant women and 19 per cent of new mothers reported clinically significant symptoms of depression.
High levels of family stress in both pregnant and new mums was associated with symptoms of depression as well as changes to antenatal care, social distancing, and pandemic-related news consumption in pregnant women.
Additionally, 60 to 70 per cent of women who reported clinically significant depression symptoms were not receiving any form of treatment at the time of the survey. As the authors note, “alarming numbers of women are experiencing significant distress that has gone undetected and unsupported.”
The study also found that almost 17 per cent of women said they weren’t asked about mental health at all during pregnancy or after having their baby.
COPE’s Research on the impact of COVID-19
COPE research undertaken with 1,899 consumers during the pandemic, revealed that a significant number of individuals identified challenges relating to the impact of COVID-19. This included increased anxiety and depression, changes to birthing practices, loneliness and isolation as a result of lockdown and reduced personal contact with health professionals.
It’s an experience mum and founder of We Need Our Village, Alexandra Parker, understands all too well. Alexandra gave birth to her son Jack, in May 2020.
“Having a newborn is isolating all by itself,” she says. “You go into the hospital as one person (uncomfortable, hopeful, terrified) and you come home as another. You are yanked into hour-by-hour survival mode, physically torn apart and nearly hallucinating from lack of sleep. None of this is conducive to seeing people, apart from the ones you trust the most. In my case, most of those people were 17,000.00 km away in England. A strict Australian border closure prevented them to cross. I couldn’t quite believe it, I never thought I would go through childbirth without my mum.”
As the reality hit, Alexandra found herself struggling to cope with a toddler and baby with severe reflux.
I would have sold a kidney to have my mum support me through the torture of sleep deprivation. I could barely function as a human, how could I be a mother when it felt like I was living in a vacuum? I started to shut down, close off and retreated into a lonely space.
“[Jack] would hysterically cry in pain, waking up every hour throughout the night for the first 10 months of his life. I would have sold a kidney to have my mum support me through the torture of sleep deprivation. I could barely function as a human, how could I be a mother when it felt like I was living in a vacuum? I started to shut down, close off and retreated into a lonely space.”
By the time Christmas arrived she was at breaking point.
“Every milestone that my children hit without my family being around to witness overtook my body with grief,” she says. “I went to a very dark place. In the depths of my despair I knew I had to do something, this inner beacon going off inside of me, I had to get help.”
After visiting her GP, Alexandra received a referral to a psychologist and began taking medication. “I am grateful I have this chance to start over, to climb out of the dark hole that I fell deep into, to rise in the face of adversity,” she says.