Support lacking for depressed mums

Postnatal depression is going undiagnosed at an alarming rate, leaving new mums missing out on support, a Palmerston North advocate says. 

Mothers Matter research has found 59 per cent of new mothers had experienced a depressive episode, which could put them at risk, and 72 per cent were not assessed at all by their midwives, founder Kristina Paterson said. One hundred new mothers were surveyed for postnatal depression (PND).

She is calling for more support for mothers and mandatory testing for postnatal depression.

Sixty-three per cent of those mothers surveyed experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety, either during pregnancy or one week after giving birth. Only 19 per cent were diagnosed during those stages. 

Part of the problem was the level of support from district health boards was inconsistent, she said

"What we've surveyed has really shown some significant gaps. We're getting mothers coming through who are saying ... 'my GP reckons I had postnatal depression last time', and they already have a 3 or 4 year old."

Paterson said she herself was diagnosed with PND 18 months after giving birth.

La Leche League leader and private breast feeding consultant Jackie Wheeler said blanket, compulsory screening for PND might lead some mothers to be diagnosed of an illness they do not have.

She said if caught at the wrong time, they might just have "baby blues" which is normal and often fleeting, leading to misdiagnosis. 

"We know who's at risk during pregnancy."

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She said if someone has prenatal anxiety or a history of depression, midwives and support groups would generally know what to look for.

Once issues around breastfeeding were fixed, many mothers felt better about themselves, she said.

Other factors may also lead to PND, including trouble breastfeeding, being a solo parent or teen mum, unplanned pregnancy or a traumatic births.

Paterson said although it was best practice, it was not compulsory for midwives to assess their patient for PND.

Midwife and Perinatal Mental Health Trust board member Denise Garcia said midwives did not have a single way of assessing mothers for PND.

"A lot of GP practices will do screening as well, at the six-week check. for some of them, I've had ... they're not looking too grand at about a week."

She said a lot of mothers come right, but some don't, so knowing the signs was important.

The aim of the Perinatal Mental Health Trust is to arm the health professionals with the tools necessary to help mothers.

"There's probably a lot of women that are suffering who have not disclosed or were not asked at the right time.

"There's definitely space for more research and support for the women."

And like any other mental health problem, a "you'll be right" attitude attitude should not be applied, she said.

 - Stuff

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