Getting help for postnatal mental health conditions

If you are experiencing distressing symptoms, and what may be likely to be depression and/or anxiety, talk to your GP, discuss the way you have been thinking and feeling with your maternal and child health nurse or reach out a helpline. Remember in Australia you can access mental health treatment and support under Medicare.

If your symptoms are more extreme, out of character, and reflect those of bipolar disorder or postpartum psychosis, seek assistance immediately through your GP, mental health service or contact your hospital emergency department. This will enable a full assessment to be made and ensure that the mother and baby are safe and can access specialist treatment as required.

These conditions can be treated or managed. By recognising symptoms and seeking help early, you will be closer to your recovery.

I wish I got help earlier and told people, but I felt too ashamed. I was a nurse, and felt I should have been able to cope. Everyone around me saw me as “a coper”, I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t.

When it comes to seeking help remember – mental health problems are no different than mastitis, caesarians, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes or other conditions that occur when having a baby. Like physical conditions, they happen. It is no one’s fault.

Find out more about seeking help

Considerations when seeking help

Be informed and aware of the symptoms

It is important to be aware of the possible symptoms of postnatal anxiety and postnatal depression, so that you can become aware of the early signs and seek help for postnatal mental health conditions as early as possible.

This is particularly the case if you have experienced these conditions in the past, as having a baby significantly increases the likelihood that these conditions will re-emerge for women, and men are also at risk of distress at this time.

This is also the case if you have experienced the symptoms of bipolar disorder in the past, have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or bipolar disorder in your family. Similarly, if you have a history of psychotic symptoms, psychosis or another mental illness like schizophrenia, being aware of the signs of illness and any changes in the way you think, feel, or behave needs to be responded to as quickly as possible.

Be mindful of your past mental health history

For this reason it can be helpful to consider times when you have experienced emotional and/or mental health problems in the past and reflect upon the early symptoms that you may have experienced at this time.

The postnatal depression came upon me very slowly, which was very different than any previous depressive episode. I think many of the symptoms were masked by life with an infant, such as wanting to sleep all of the time and not wanting to go out of the house. It’s only when old patterns started to emerge that I recognised it for what it was.

It is quite possible that at the time, you didn’t consider these earlier symptoms in the context of something being wrong. Reflecting and refreshing your memory, can help you to become aware of the early possible signs in yourself or your partner, to enable you to respond sooner, rather than waiting until the symptoms increase in number and/or severity.

Remember seeking help early can lead to a faster recovery

In addition to being informed about these conditions and aware of the symptoms, it is also important to seek help early. Too often mothers who have experienced postnatal mental health problems say that in hindsight, they wished they had sought help earlier.

I wish I’d sought help. I wish my partner had sought help for me and for himself. Maybe then I could look back on my son’s babyhood without tearing up & feeling like I missed it.

Similarly, many fathers say that they didn’t feel that their need to seek help was justified – as they were not the ones who had the baby and their role was to support and provide for the family. In both instances, men and women commonly reflect that they took too long to seek help because they either didn’t recognise the signs, hoped things would get better on their own or were too ashamed.

I knew about postnatal depression from the maternity hospital. When I got home my condition became worse, but I did not seek treatment as I thought I was better/stronger than to be someone with depression. Even though I cried uncontrollably everyday and knew that it wasn’t right.

This delay in help seeking can make the symptoms worse and recovery take longer. As a result the impacts on other members of the family can also be exacerbated – so it’s in everyone’s best interest to seek help early.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Mothers in particular often say that they didn’t seek help early as they didn’t want to be seen as not coping.

I didn’t seek help as I felt embarrassed as a new mum to say I needed help – I thought I should be strong enough to deal with it on my own.

Stevie and Renee discussed living with anxiety and depression, and what encouraged them to finally seek help in our YouTube and podcast series The Mum Drum:

Be aware of pressure from yourself and others to be ‘perfect’

Becoming a parent is a time that is often filled with expectations of what becoming a parent is going to be like, yet the realities are rarely spoken about or portrayed in the media.

It is very difficult to admit you are not coping when society puts such high expectations on motherhood and that it appears so wonderful.

Some parents may be reluctant to seek help or talk about the challenges they are facing, as they also worry about what others may think and how they may be viewed by others as a parent and as a person.

I feel that there is a stigma attached to postnatal depression. Even my mother and sister seem to view it as a weakness. This made me reluctant to seek the help I needed. I thought that I would be viewed as a bad mother if I didn’t cope with it on my own.

If this is how you are feeling about getting help, then don’t waste any more time feeling distressed.

The faster you seek help, then the faster you can take steps to feeling like the old you.