Postnatal Depression and Perinatal Mental Health

“Postnatal depression” is the term most commonly used when someone is seeking help for mental health issues during pregnancy.

This term is a little outdated for two reasons, though. Firstly, because although depression is one of the more common mental health issues in mothers and fathers who are expecting or have had a baby, many other mental health issues can arise such as anxiety, issues with eating and body image, identity issues and self-esteem changes, just to name a few. Secondly, mental health issues not only arise post having a baby. People can also experience changes in the mental health and wellbeing during the pregnancy and well after the birth of the child.

For these reasons, the term “perinatal mental health” is now widely used by health professionals and increasingly, by the general public.

Close up of woman sitting on couch barefoot, talking to postnatal psychologist

What is perinatal mental health?

Perinatal refers to pregnancy and up to one year following childbirth. Perinatal mental health problems are emotional difficulties that happen within this time. Because the birth of a baby is highly anticipated, and expected to be a happy time, it is often difficult to recognise when you or your partner are struggling. But as many as 1 in 5 new parents experience depression and anxiety during this big life change.

Signs and symptoms of perinatal mental health issues:

  • Low mood and/or feeling numb most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling inadequate, worthless or highly self-critical
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Feeling like nobody and nothing will help to change how you feel
  • Excessive guilt
  • Loss of interest in things that you would normally enjoy
  • Not eating or over-eating
  • Feeling unmotivated and unable to cope with your daily routine
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Crying and feeling teary
  • Feeling like your mood changes abruptly
  • Obsessive and compulsive behaviours
  • Not looking after yourself properly
  • Decreased energy and feeling exhausted
  • Having trouble concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Having thoughts about harming yourself or the baby, ending your life, or wanting to escape
  • Tiredness, headaches and pain
  • Irritability, anxiety and anger
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control, and unable to cope
  • Increased risk tasking
  • Changes to sleep patterns, especially a lack of sleep
  • Feeling isolated and disconnected
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Panic attacks
  • Constantly feeling irritable, restless or ‘on edge’
  • Having tense muscles, a ‘tight’ chest and heart palpitations
  • Constantly worrying or getting overwhelmed by thoughts
  • Anxiety or fear that stops you going out with your baby
  • Feeling like you need to check on your baby constantly because of fears about their safety
  • Fear of being alone with your baby

Can men experience perinatal mental health problems?

Yes. There is a common misconception that perinatal depression and mental health issues only happen to women. Although historically most of the media attention has focused on women’s experiences, fortunately this is beginning to change. Through the work of important organisations like Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) the experiences of men are now being recognised and discussed more openly and support is more widely available.

Some of the symptoms of postnatal depression and mental health difficulties that are common in men include irritability, anger, drinking more alcohol, feeling isolated, and increased hours at work.

We help people with a wide range of perinatal mental health issues, including counselling for:

  • Feeling down or flat, or not feeling like your “old self”
  • Trouble coping with day-to-day activities
  • Excessive worry (e.g., constantly checking on the well-being of your baby)
  • Difficulty coping with birth trauma
  • Feeling disconnected from your baby
  • Body dissatisfaction and/or disordered eating
  • Changes in the parent relationship (e.g., increased conflict, feeling disconnected, grieving the relationship you had before you had a child, financial pressures)
  • Fears about returning to work or having your child being cared for
  • Issues that relate to you own childhood, such as experiences of trauma or having a challenging relationship with your own mother or father
  • Grieving your pre-parent identity

Perinatal depression and mental health treatments

At Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology, our psychologists have specific experience helping people to overcome perinatal mental health issues. We use evidence-based psychological treatments that have been shown to be effective for perinatal depression and difficulties, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and mindfulness and relaxation.

Using professional support, we will work with you to help you to understand and address the factors that might be contributing to your symptoms. We will help you to figure out the links between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours so that you can nurture yourself and your baby. We’ll help you to develop a tool kit of strategies that you can draw on both now and into the future.