Postnatal depression diagnosis slipping through the cracks

Grace Revell (pictured with her husband and daughter) is happy that her long-awaited support for postnatal depression is ...

Grace Revell (pictured with her husband and daughter) is happy that her long-awaited support for postnatal depression is helping her to smile again.

A new report has highlighted serious gaps when it comes to postnatal depression support for Kiwi women.  

The survey by Mothers' Helpers, a charitable organisation helping support stressed mums, found women are experiencing considerable delays in diagnosis and inadequate treatment when it comes to pregnancy and post-birth related depression.

An eye-opening 63 per cent of those surveyed admitted to having symptoms of depression or anxiety, yet less than 20 per cent were diagnosed during the perinatal phase. Concerningly, this means a significant number of mums are pushing through this already mentally demanding time with limited medicinal or emotional support for this specific side effect.

So, why the gap? 

* Having another child after postnatal depression
* One in 10 dads suffer from postnatal depression

"A lack of screening and assessment during pregnancy and post-birth seems the likely reason," suggests registered nurse, mother, and founder of Mothers' Helpers Kristina Paterson. But another concern is that this issue could be even more widespread than the report shows. "If mothers with very clear risk factors are not being picked up, then we have a serious problem." 

Paterson is empathetic with the many women missing out on this crucial treatment, because like so many, her own cry for help wasn't heard by the current system.

"I now know that it's likely I had antenatal depression after talking to my therapist," says Paterson. "I had previously told my midwife that I was worried I'd be a potential candidate, but she never assessed me and, even at my request, did not refer me to Maternal Mental Health Services."

Kristina Paterson hopes others can gain postnatal depression support earlier than she did.

Kristina Paterson hopes others can gain postnatal depression support earlier than she did.

"I was eventually diagnosed with postnatal depression when my son was nine months old."

The delay in diagnosis, support and treatment has had profound and ongoing effects on Paterson's life.

"It led to the breakdown of my marriage and robbed me of the joy of what turned out to be the only baby I'll have."

Sadly, Paterson's experiences are mirrored by women whom she provides support for via her recovery courses

"Do other women just cope better?" 

Unexpectedly giving birth on her bathroom floor two weeks before her due date was the beginning of many twists and turns buckling Grace Revell's smooth transition to motherhood.

"None of our experiences were out of the ordinary, but for me it was out of control," she says. "Alongside this, I felt so trapped being the only source of food for my baby and resented her for needing me so much."

"While other mums were cooing over their babies, I felt full of self-doubt, extremely anxious, and angry. I'd ask myself, "Do other women just cope better?"

After six months of confusion and chaos, Revell found a flicker of strength. She bravely called a psychotherapist and to her relief, yes relief, was told that she was quite unwell. The treatment and recovery process finally began.

"In retrospect, my midwife and GP completely dropped the ball," she reveals. "I should have been referred on for treatment, but I slipped through the cracks."
"I mourned those first six months of motherhood, because it could have – and should have – been so different."

"I never felt like a mother"

Single mother-of-four Maara Cummings remembers struggling to bond with her eldest son, who is now six-years-old.

"Kissing and hugging my beautiful son was something I initially didn't find myself doing," admits Cummings. "I remember looking at other mothers and wondering why I couldn't do something so simple yet so meaningful."

"The truth is that I never felt like a mother and I couldn't understand why the want to nurture didn't happen for me naturally. I was zoned out. The only thing I did was work to provide clothing, food and shelter."

Maara Cummings' four beautiful and happy children.

Maara Cummings' four beautiful and happy children.

Cummings wanted to ask for help, but didn't know how to explain her feelings. "I went to my GP and told him I was stressed."

That 'stress' never went away.

It wasn't until earlier this year that she came across Mothers' Helpers on facebook, and signed up to the postnatal depression and recovery course. Today, Cummings is a working mum who is studying mental health and addictions support. 

"I'm still on medication, but now I have the emotional and mental support network to back that up," she says. "I've cried a million tears of anger and frustration, but today I look at my journey, my recovery, and my four wonderful children with gratitude."

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Mothers' Helpers (0800 002 717)
Ministry of Health: Postnatal Depression
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand


 - Stuff

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