Caring for someone with perinatal anxiety or depression can be confusing, stressful and demanding (perinatal refers to the period during pregnancy and up to one year after birth). It is important to understand that perinatal anxiety and depression is a common and serious illness that can affect any individual and their family, regardless of culture or age.
Effects of perinatal anxiety and depression
Perinatal anxiety and depression can impact enormously on all areas of wellbeing: physical, emotional and social. Overwhelm, exhaustion, loss of confidence, fear of leaving the house or being with other people can all take its toll. Relationships suffer (including with partners, family and friends) and the longer an unwell parent goes without seeking treatment the more likely the other parent will experience a mental health decline.
From a parenting perspective, it is really hard to find the patience, desire and capacity to connect with babies, children and loved ones when you’re anxious and depressed. It is difficult to be a parent if you are feeling agitated, unsettled or lacking in motivation. This is why seeking help early is so important.
Impacts of perinatal anxiety and depression on carers and partners
Caring for someone who is struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression can be confusing, stressful and demanding. Especially if you had been expecting this to be one of the most exciting times of your life.
You might also be having your own difficulties adjusting to the many challenges of becoming a new parent. You might feel:
- Confused or uncertain about what to say or do to help: “I don’t know what to say in case I make things worse”
- Useless: “Nothing I say or do seems to help!”
- Frustrated and angry: “Why are they being like this when I am trying so hard?”
- Overwhelmed: “It’s all too much”
- Alienated: “I don’t know how to relate to this experience”
- Unsure about how or when to help: “Am I interfering? Should I be helping more? Should I be letting them have space?”
- A sense of loss: “When is the person going to be their ‘old self’?”
- A loss of support: “The person I used to closely rely on is no longer there for me.”
It’s important to remember that perinatal anxiety and depression are genuine illnesses. Try not to take any out of character behaviour personally. And try to look after your own mental and physical help, as this will make you the best partner you can be in a difficult time.
Lots of dads feel uncertain about who they can talk to about what their partner is going through. We still have a long way to go to accepting mental illness in the same way we deal with physical illnesses. It is a good idea to check in with your partner about how they feel about you telling other people. It can help to remember that this is a common illness and you might be surprised who else has had to deal with it.
You can always call PANDA's Helpline if you need to talk to someone who understands.
1300 726 306 (Mon to Fri, 9am - 7.30pm AEST)
For more information on perinatal anxiety and depression in new and expecting women: