Asking for Help
As a mum, it can be difficult to ask for help when we need it. Many of us take pride in our ability to juggle a number of tasks while maintaining our calm, happy exterior. However, this can come at a cost to our health, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. It is therefore important to recognise when we’ve taken on too much and reach out for support before our health makes the decision for us.
As a GP obstetrician, I routinely screen women for anxiety and depression during their pregnancy and in the postpartum period. I take into consideration their risk factors, such as a previous history of mental illness, current stressors including relationship difficulties, financial strain or work stress, a traumatic birth experience and sleep deprivation. I ask about their family and social supports, and how they are managing with their day to day responsibilities. Often, women admit that they have their good days and their bad days, but overall they are coping ok, and decline offers of extra support.
It takes courage
It might be months or even years before a woman finally has the courage to ask for help, and by this time she can be at a point of burnout, sometimes with significant symptoms of anxiety or depression. I use the word courage because it can be incredibly frightening for women to admit that there is a problem and that they need help. They worry that they will be judged for being a “bad mum”, that they may be reported to Child Protection Services and have their children taken away from them. Although this is an extremely rare occurrence, these fears can be overwhelming, adding to the stress that already exists, leading to feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
It's ok to say your struggling
In my practice, I have been surprised on a number of occasions with confessions by mothers that they have been struggling with anxiety and depression for years after the birth of their baby. Mothers who I have felt I knew well and developed a positive rapport with. Mothers who have displayed resilience through times of great challenge, raising happy, healthy children. Mothers who felt they couldn’t disclose their struggles to me, or anyone else, because of their fear of what this would reveal about them as a human. Mothers who desperately needed help but soldiered on alone.
And yet every time a mother discloses her experience and asks for help, they inevitably feel a sense of relief. It is like a weight is lifted from their shoulders and they no longer need to hide how they are feeling. The opportunity to share their experience is incredibly empowering, and they can see a light at the end of tunnel, even if it is a long way away.
Vulnerability is a sign of strength
My only judgement of mothers who are ask for help is one of complete respect for their bravery. I am in admiration of their dedication to their role as a mother, and their willingness to be vulnerable. Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability is a must-watch for all new mothers and mothers-to-be, as she describes that vulnerability is not about weakness, but about courage.
Help is available
Once a mother takes the step to ask for help, there is so much that can be done to assist her and provide her with hope. There is an array of supports that can be engaged, including family, friends, their Child Health Nurse, the Red Cross, Emergency Child Care, and other local family support services.
Mothers groups are a wonderful resource for mums who are feeling isolated, and there are now specific groups, such as the Radiance Network in Busselton, that are designed to support mothers with their emotional wellbeing. If a mother is experiencing anxiety or depression, referrals can be made to local psychological services for up to 10 sessions that attract Medicare rebates in Australia.
The website MumSpace brings together trusted online support resources for prevention and treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety, including online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programs, such as MumMoodBooster, as well as Apps such as MindMum that have been designed specifically to assist women recover from perinatal depression and anxiety. The beauty of these resources is that they can be accessed from home. This can be a real benefit when you’ve got a baby who needs to be home often for sleeps, feeds and nappy changes.
Telehealth psychological services
The Gidget Foundation has recently launched a telehealth program that provides women with perinatal depression and anxiety access to up to 7 psychological services for free via videoconference from the comfort of their home.
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) has a helpline 1300 726 306 that operates weekdays 10am to 5pm AEST and provides confidential support to mothers, family members or friends affected by perinatal depression and anxiety. Phone calls are taken by trained counsellors and volunteers who can arrange referrals as appropriate.
COPE (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) is another useful online resource that provides high quality, practical information to women during pregnancy and parenthood to assist them with the emotional challenges that arise during this stage of life. You can sign up for a free, fortnightly email newsletter that you will receive from early pregnancy right through to the end of the first year after having a baby. The focus of the e-newsletter is the mother’s emotional and mental health and covers a whole range of topics. You can watch this short Youtube video to learn more about COPE.
In closing, please remember you are not alone. Asking for help can be challenging, but it can also be life-saving. It takes courage, but you can do it, and it it will be worth it. I promise.