What is perinatal anxiety and depression?

Short answer: Perinatal anxiety and depression are common health conditions that affect people who are expecting or have recently had a baby.

Long answer:

Mums, dads and non-birth parents can all get perinatal anxiety and depression, with up to one in five expecting or new mothers and one in ten expecting or new fathers experiencing it. These conditions are temporary and treatable, but sometimes because of a lack of awareness or stigma, not everyone gets the help they need.

Left untreated, perinatal anxiety and depression can have a devastating impact on parents, partners, baby and the rest of the family. In more severe cases, lives can be put at risk.

The term ‘perinatal’ refers to the period from the conception of a child through to the first year after birth. During this time, there are many changes and challenges that can occur.


What is the difference between anxiety and depression?

In general terms anxiety refers to an aroused mood – panic, agitation, frustration or anger. Depression is often associated with low mood, sadness, hopelessness or withdrawal. Many expecting and new parents can experience both anxiety and depression at the same time.


Recognising perinatal anxiety and depression

Symptoms are often dismissed as normal parts of pregnancy or early parenthood. Shame and stigma can lead to a ‘mask of coping’. Symptoms can look different for each person.

Signs may include:

· Feeling sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason

· Persistent generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby

· Being nervous, ‘on edge’ or panicky

· Being easily annoyed or irritated

· Withdrawing from friends and family

· Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy

· Difficulties sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping

· Abrupt mood swings

· Physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cold sweats or lack of appetite

· Having little or no interest in the things that normally bring you joy

· Fear of being alone with others

· Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember

· Increased alcohol or drug use

· Panic attacks (racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings) developing obsessive or compulsive behaviours

· Thoughts of death, suicide or harming your baby

There are also many other symptoms not listed. If you or someone close to you experiences any symptoms or feelings that worry you for two weeks or more, it’s best to seek support.


Talking about it

Perinatal anxiety and depression is a serious health condition. It can affect any new or expecting parent and does not discriminate. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but many new mums and dads find it hard to talk about it.

Expecting and new parents telling others about their struggles, or admitting they need help and seeking treatment or advice is not a sign of weakness. It shows that they want the best for themselves and their family. WLC Medical can offer you guidance and help from our psychologist Dave Simich or from one of the counsellors within our premises at Belmont Counselling or Keystone Counselling. Nurse practitioner Julie McLean of Perth Paediatric and Family Clinic can also assist you with perinatal advice and customised medical support.