Perinatal mental illness refers to any mental health condition affecting the mood, behaviour, wellbeing and/or daily function of an expecting or new parent.
The term ‘perinatal’ refers to the time from conception and pregnancy through to the first year after birth. ‘Antenatal’ refers to pregnancy up until the birth. ‘Postnatal’ refers to the first year after birth.
Perinatal mental illnesses affect around 100,000 families across Australia every year. Perinatal anxiety and depression are common, but they are also treatable.
1 in 5 expecting or new mothers and 1 in 10 expecting or new fathers will experience perinatal anxiety and/or depression symptoms. Other perinatal mental illnesses like postnatal psychosis are less common than anxiety or depression, but all perinatal mental illnesses respond well to treatment and there’s strong hope for recovery.
Left untreated, perinatal mental illness can have long-lasting impacts on parents, partners, babies and families.
The key to accessing effective mental health support is being able to recognise the signs that you’re not coping - and finding the courage to ask for help.
Mental health support might be:
- Talking to your partner or another support person.
- Speaking to a trusted health professional.
- Calling PANDA’s National Helpline.
Perinatal mental health changes: What’s considered normal?
Being pregnant or becoming a new parent can feel both exciting and challenging. It’s normal to need time to adjust to the many changes that come with pregnancy, or the arrival of a new baby. Having a child and becoming a parent are major life transitions, and can affect your emotional and mental wellbeing.
Antenatal mental health: Feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and uncertainty about your pregnancy, the health of your unborn baby, the birth itself and becoming a parent are all normal developmental transitions as your body and mind start to prepare for the new reality of parenthood, and caring for a baby.
Postnatal mental health: Feeling a little teary, anxious or irritable in the weeks after you have your baby is normal, and often referred to as the ‘baby blues’. The baby blues affect up to 80% of new parents after giving birth. These symptoms usually resolve within a few days.
However, if you are an expecting or new parent you’re experiencing a low mood, overwhelm, or distressing thoughts and feelings that affect your wellbeing and ability to function in daily life, it’s important to reach out for help and talk to someone.
Recognising perinatal mental ill-health
Perinatal mental health disorderslike anxiety and depression can be difficult to recognise for a range of reasons:
- Symptoms of mental ill-health can vary for different people.
- Significant mental health changes may be dismissed by loved ones or health professionals as ‘normal’ experiences of pregnancy or early parenthood.
- Feelings of isolation and shame can also increase pressure for some parents to wear a ‘mask of coping’.
Perinatal anxiety and depression
Anxiety refers to an agitated or ‘aroused’ mood - panicky, feeling overwhelmed, and/or frustrated.
Depression is often associated with a low mood - sadness, hopelessness, and/or withdrawal.
There is some similarity in symptoms too. For instance, many people may experience feelings of irritability and social withdrawal with both anxiety and depression.
It’s common for expecting and new parents to experience a ‘mixed mood’ (anxiety and depression symptoms at the same time).
Symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression may include:
Talking about perinatal mental health
Where to seek help
PANDA’s Mental Health Checklists for expecting and new parents
Mental health checklist
How are you going?
Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be reason to seek help.