A Helping Hand

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Playgroup provides a welcoming place and vital support for parents who suffer postnatal depression.

Attending a new Playgroup for the first time can be daunting: as with any new situation, there are nerves and a feeling of self-consciousness.  But for someone suffering postnatal depression, just getting out the door with a baby (and all the associated baby paraphernalia) can feel completely overwhelming, let alone getting to Playgroup.

This is one of the many reasons why being inclusive at your Playgroup is so important.

Every new person who joins a Playgroup has his or her own story and providing a supportive environment at playgroup goes a long way to making things easier.

It’s not just mothers of newborns who benefit from the support and social interaction that Playgroup provides. A study published in May this year showed maternal depression was more common four years after the birth of a woman’s first child than at any time during the child’s first year.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute study of 1500 mothers found that 10 percent of women reported symptoms of depression a year after the birth of their first child – but this increased to 15 percent four years after the birth.

What is PND?

Postnatal depression (PND) is a mood disorder that occurs in women (and sometimes men) following childbirth. It is a clinical depression, and is the most common psychological complication of childbirth. It most often arises during the first year after giving birth and the onset tends to be gradual and may persist for many months. Postnatal depression affects one in seven women. Left untreated, the impact on the mother and her children can be profound.

PND is often not recognised by women, their partners, family and friends due to their lack of understanding about the illness. For some women, a degree of pretending to cope with motherhood is often present, as they do not understand that they may be suffering from a mental illness and need professional help.

Symptoms of PND

Each woman’s experience of PND is different and not all women will feel the same. Most women with PND will find the severity of their symptoms is fairly constant. The symptoms include:

  • More bad feelings than good.
  • Feeling exhausted, empty, sad and tearful.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by daily tasks.
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
  • Lack of or increase in level of self care.
  • Feeling inadequate and feeling like a failure as a mother and/or partner.
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed and worthless.
  • Feeling a sense of hopelessness about the future.
  • Insomnia, excess sleep and/or nightmares.
  • Avoiding contact with family and friends or fear of being alone.
  • Withdrawing from social contact.
  • Fear for the child(ren) or of the child(ren).
  • Fear of harming child(ren) or self.
  • Decreased sexual desire.

Support services and strategies

  • Ask for help or collect information from health professionals, i.e. child health nurse, GP, obstetrician, counsellor
  • Avoid isolation.
  • Increase support network.
  • Join a PND support group.
  • Keep contact numbers handy.
  • Get out and meet other mothers with similar age children, eg. playgroup, mothers’ group, toy library.
  • Educate your partner and supporting family and friends about PND – they are often more willing and able to provide emotional and practical support after an adequate explanation and appropriate guidance is given.
  • A combination of antidepressant medication and psychological therapy may be useful in treating moderate to severe depression.
  • Less severe PND may be helped by regular contact with support groups. Support groups provide understanding, information and support for women, partners and their families affected by pregnancy and childbirth-related stress and depression.   To find your local support group, contact your GP, local community centre or council and/or Helen Mayo House, community service organisations such as Anglicare and Uniting Care.

Other strategies may include:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • Catching up on lost sleep.
  • Asking for help with the baby/child or housework.
  • Making time for pleasurable and relaxing activities.

How can Playgroup help?

Avoiding isolation is vitally important in the treatment of PND. For many parents, attending Playgroup can be a highlight of each week, yet for a mother with PND the benefits of Playgroup can be even more profound. Making the effort to get there can provide a huge sense of achievement and sharing a coffee and a chat with other parents can provide much-needed respite, particularly when the alternative is being at home faced with seemingly insurmountable housework. Just having somewhere to go and a reason to get out of the house can provide a break from what can seem like living in a fog.

In today’s society it can be difficult to admit that we are not coping. Mums in particular feel they need to do it all and be it all (for everyone, all the time). If you attend a Playgroup and know someone who is suffering from PND, or have just noticed another mum who may seem a bit down or a bit overwhelmed, a little bit of support can really make a difference.  Make them a cuppa and spend some time to listen without judgement. Depending on how comfortable you feel (and how receptive they are) you might even like to offer to babysit for an afternoon or cook them a meal. Recovery from PND is a gradual process. But little things can make a big difference.

Support and resources

If you are feeling down or anxious you should talk with your midwife, Child and Family Health nurse, GP, obstetrician or another professional involved in the care of you and your baby, toddler or preschooler. They can help make sure you get support and help to feel better. You may also access support via telephone help lines or websites. Some are local to South Australia and some are national. Confidentiality and safety is always respected with the highest importance.

Words adapted from Playgroup WA PND Resource
This article was originally published in State of Play, Issue 3, 2014