By Gidget Clinical Psychologist Chris Barnes
Starting the conversation and sharing your feelings is the most important step and sometimes the most difficult. Early diagnosis and intervention is key. If you feel like you haven’t been yourself for two weeks or more, now is the time to start talking. It’s not the baby blues. Recognising that this feeling you have is not going away by itself can be hard to acknowledge. Talking to someone who cares about you can get the help you need to address this diagnosable and very treatable condition, paving the way to recovery. Talking reduces the feeling of loneliness and the stigma attached to having this diagnosis. Enlist a friend to make the call for you if this step is too difficult.
PNDA is the result of a combination of biological, psychological and social factors that you often have no control over. Take on the ‘it takes a village’ idea and get support from different people in your life. The support needs to cover both practical and emotional aspects. This ‘village’ could include your family, partner, friends, GP, midwife, obstetrician, psychologist, a social worker and an early childhood nurse. Also, reach out to specific organisations that help families in distress in the perinatal period, such as the Gidget Foundation Australia and PANDA.
Seeing a perinatal specialist for psychological help can be very effective. The combination of shared care with your GP, obstetrician and other specialists is a great way to create a support network. It’s important to gain an understanding of how PNDA works, how common it is, the effect it has on you and learn strategies to cope with the anxious and/or depressed feelings you are experiencing.
Talking to a trained specialist gives you the opportunity to talk through any worries you may have and be understood in a non-judgemental and caring way. It may take some time and active work to recover but it is possible.
Involving your partner is also an essential part of recovery if this is deemed appropriate by you and your specialist. You can call organisations like the Gidget Foundation and access their information online or approach your GP for a referral to a psychologist. Mental health care plans are available from your GP.
Sometimes medication or other complimentary therapies are needed to assist in lifting your mood and to lessen anxiety if talking therapies are not enough.
4. Practical support
When you have a baby, it can be a time of mixed emotions, exhaustion, isolation, sleep deprivation, irritability, low mood, loss of enjoyment in life and other physical after-birth issues. Getting practical help can lighten your load. This can be hard if you have always been an independent person and are not used to being cared for or asking for help, however, asking for help is absolutely encouraged. This could mean asking your partner for extra help, or a friend or family member, or even out-sourcing if you have no family around.
Getting the ironing or shopping done for you, having a meal cooked, taking a walk by yourself in the fresh air or doing exercise will uplift your mood. Catch up with good friends that you don’t have to put an “I am OK mask” on for and go on a date night with your partner.
It’s crucial to rest and recharge in this early time of recovery. It’s ok to leave the washing for an extra day or have the house a bit dusty. The priority needs to be you.
5. Listen to yourself and be active in your recovery
If you have PNDA, being active can be hard but it is crucial for your recovery. You can discuss the different ideas and strategies proven to help others with your treating specialist and adapt this to your own life.
Being kind and compassionate to yourself can also be a challenge as those with PNDA often feel guilty and regretful about feeling this way. Understand that having PNDA is not your fault. Taking steps to manage it will help you feel more positive and enhance your emotional wellbeing. Imagine your friend has PNDA. What would you do to help him/her? Try to accept that same help from others.
Daily exercise increases endorphins, our natural feel good hormones. Some like to run, others prefer a gentle walk, yoga or taking the dog for a walk. Do whatever feels good and make a realistic plan for exercise; one that you know you will carry out. Taking fish oil supplements for mild–moderate depressive symptoms can also lift your mood and magnesium can assist with sleep. It’s important to eat a well-balanced diet as research indicates links between gut health and mood disruptions.
Trying to rest when the baby is sleeping is also a good idea. Accessing mindfulness techniques is a proven way to increase feelings of wellbeing. It focuses us on the present and is a core skill that can decrease depressive feelings. This doesn’t have to be a sit-down meditation, but your health professional can discuss the different methods with you and maybe even practice some relaxation exercises. Various apps like Smiling Minds and Headspace are useful. We all have the capacity to be mindful.
Being active in your recovery and choosing strategies that you can and will use will help you manage PNDA now and for life in general.