Guest post by Nikki Zerman, Clinical and Counselling Psychologist at Victorian Counselling and
Psychological Services (VCPS).
What should a mother do if she feels she may be suffering from Postnatal Depression?
If a mother feels she may be suffering from postnatal depression she should definitely seek
help. The first point of call is always to consult your General Practitioner and/or your
Maternal and Child Health Nurse (MCHN). It is important to be open with them and really let
them know what is going on and how you are feeling. This can be very difficult and mothers
can be uncomfortable doing this but in order for your doctor or nurse to really asses what
might be most helpful they need to know what is really going on. It’s likely that this will lead
to a referral to a specialist psychologist.
If you like this post then check out: Signs, Symptoms and Support for Postnatal Depression.
The signs and symptoms a mother suffering from postnatal depression should look out for include:
• Loss of interest in the things that they used to enjoy (e.g. time with friends, time with
partner, going out)
• Sleep problems unrelated to your baby waking overnight. This might be difficulty
getting to sleep, staying asleep or wanting to sleep all the time
• Feeling generally sad, having a low mood or crying with no obvious reason
• Low energy and motivation
• Feeling overwhelmed with the demands of having a child
• Feeling guilty or inadequate
• Feeling anxious or irritable
• Fear of being alone with your child
• Experiencing difficulties with concentration, memory and making decisions
• Changes in appetite
• Social withdrawal (not wanting to see friends of family)
• Experiencing thoughts of harm to yourself or your baby
Who can help?
• The first point of call is the GP and MCHN. They can help by providing some immediate support and referrals to further supports if required.
• It can also be helpful to see a psychologist that specialises in the area. A psychologist can help you with strategies to manage the depression and any impact this may have on your parenting confidence. In addition, psychologists can help you explore ways to enjoy parenting and build a safe and secure relationship with your baby.
• If the mother is experiencing more complex or serious emotional health issues it may
be helpful to seek support from a psychiatrist or attend a mother-baby unit.
• Partners, family and friends play a really important role. They can help by providing
both emotional and practical help. Sometimes people with depression are unclear about what they want, sometimes they don’t even know themselves. It can be a delicate balance to provide support in a way that is perceived as helpful but nonjudgmental. This is especially true for partners who are often in the firing line. The best advice is to be open in communication and keep checking in with the mum.
• Support groups are also a good idea. These may be therapeutic in nature or just for support. It provides another space where women can talk about what’s going on. The benefit of these groups is that it’s with other women who are also experiencing challenges at this time.
• Specialised telephone support agencies such as PANDA, Lifeline and Maternal & Child Health Line are also services that provide good support.
Do women suffering from postnatal depression find it hard asking for help? Why?
Sometimes women find it very difficult or are hesitant to seek support. First of all, it is often
hard for them to identify that there is more going on than just sleep deprivation and
adjustment issues. Once they do identify this there are additional issues. New mothers are
expected to be filled with joy over the arrival of a new baby, however, they are not expected
to struggle or speak of the challenges a newborn brings. This means that when we are
experiencing challenges, the stigma in admitting this can impact negatively on a mothers’
general confidence and parenting confidence. Mothers may feel embarrassed or worry that
those around them will think they are not a good parent. Sometimes they fear this
themselves and this is what prevents them from seeking support. A mum may think “What’s
wrong with me that I’m struggling with this and no one else does?” This thinking often results
in a hesitancy to seek help.
Sometimes women wait until things reach a crisis point or become more challenging than
they need to be. Early intervention is better for everyone.
If mothers are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, they should discuss this
with their doctor and/or MCHN and discuss the option of a referral to a psychologist or
a psychiatrist that specialises in perinatal mental health issues.
Do you have any experience is suffering from postnatal depression? Share below!
Nikki Zerman is a Clinical and Counselling Psychologist at Victorian Counselling and
Psychological Services (VCPS). She specialises in perinatal and infant mental health.