It is not easy to ask for help when you’re struggling to cope with the changes a new baby brings. It can be hard to work out if your feelings are a normal part of the transition to parenthood or if you are experiencing something more serious.
It is critical that new mums and dads learn the symptoms of antenatal and postnatal depression and reach out for help from qualified organisations such as PANDA or Beyond Blue, their GP or another health professional as early as possible. While parents recover every day with the right care, antenatal and postnatal depression are serious illnesses that won’t go away by themselves.
But what do you do if you get up the courage and energy to tell your GP how you are feeling and you don’t get the support you need?
While most doctors and health professionals today are well informed and highly sympathetic to the needs of new parents with depression, sometimes mistakes are made. Combined with the difficulty mums and dads can have sharing what is happening for them, a GP can fail to recognise the seriousness of symptoms or to provide the care and treatment options needed for recovery.
Postnatal depression is caused by a complex combination of biological, psychological and social factors that differ for each person. The symptoms can also vary for each individual. Along with the upheaval experienced by all new parents, this can make it more difficult for GP’s, health professionals and families to identify what is normal and likely to pass, and more serious postnatal depression requiring ongoing treatment. It takes very sensitive questioning to identify when normal transitional struggles become depression and anxiety.
An unsympathetic GP can set back mums and dads experiencing postnatal depression with disastrous consequences. If you are struggling, it’s really important not to ‘give up’ or just accept what you are being told, especially if you have been concerned about your wellbeing or your children’s for two weeks or more.
PANDA can support you during this time and connect you with a local GP who has knowledge and expertise in antenatal and postnatal depression. Quality medical assessment and treatment is usually the first step to recovery and a supportive GP will be invaluable in assessing what is going on, providing information and advising on suitable treatment.
Finding the right GP
It is important to feel comfortable and confident with your GP. You have the right to change from your usual GP if you are not comfortable. It is especially helpful to have an ongoing relationship with your GP to monitor your recovery. Before you make an appointment (or someone makes one for you), it can be helpful to ask if your doctor has expertise in antenatal and postnatal depression.
What should your GP do?
Your GP should:
- Conduct a thorough assessment of your symptoms, including mental health status, blood tests and physical tests
- Provide you with a diagnosis of antenatal or postnatal depression if required
- Establish and monitor your treatment plans as part of a Mental Health Care Plan
- Refer you to specialist services within your area such as an inpatient mother and baby unit (if required) and services under Medicare’s Better Access to Mental Health Care or ATAPS (Access to Allied Psychological Services).
How can you get the best outcome from your GP visit?
Some parents experiencing postnatal depression do not understand what is happening to them or are ashamed of how they feel, and leave out important information necessary for diagnosis. Your GP needs information relating to a variety of physical, emotional and social aspects of how you are coping, to provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Some strategies that can assist you to get the best outcome from your appointment are:
- Take someone else with you to your appointment who can fill in the gaps and recall the information your GP provides.
- Leave your baby and children with a trusted babysitter or take someone with you who can look after them during your appointment.
- Write yourself a note or check list of things you want to cover or need to say, remembering your worst times.
- Write a note to your GP expressing what you may feel uncomfortable to say face to face. You can leave this with the receptionist who will give it to the GP prior to your appointment.
- Be open and honest with your GP as it is the only way you will receive effective treatment. Your GP will most likely not be surprised by what you disclose.
Before you leave your appointment
Your needs are important. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and discuss your concerns at all times. You may wish to clarify the information you have received by:
- Asking to explain things that you didn’t understand
- Confirm what you do understand by repeating it back
- Ask for any documentation or plans written solely about yourself
- Plan for the future. Make a follow up appointment
- Obtain contact details for if/when things get worse
- Ask for any written information you can take home
- Enquiring after a support group or source for more information if required.
When you are going through something as awful as post natal depression, you really do need a huge support network around you. Never feel you have to settle for second best or justify yourself when it comes to your mental health. After all, a happy Mum leads to a happy family.
If you are experiencing feelings of depression or the baby blues, you can contact beyondblue for support, advice and an action plan.
beyondblue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma. They provide calls or chats online one-on-one with trained mental health professionals, and are completely confidential.
If you become concerned about any symptoms please seek immediate medical attention – we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice – http://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.