Media images of the “perfect family” are driving an increase in new mums seeking professional help for anxiety and perinatal depression, Australian experts have warned.
According to research commissioned by PANDA, the Australian perinatal depression helpline, the number of calls to their national helpline has increased by 38 per cent from July 2017 following additional funding that allowed the organisation to expand its operating hours. Alarmingly, one in 10 of these callers were considered to be at serious risk of self-harm or suicide.
Sharing her experience with perinatal depression during Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week, new mum to Hamish, Renee Knight, relayed the pressure she encountered to ABC News Breakfast, in trying to live up to the image of parenthood frequently portrayed in traditional and social media.
“We’re bombarded in society. I had this great image of what I was going to be like as a mum.
“I was so excited, and then it just didn’t work out to be what I expected,” she said.
Renee struggled to cope with motherhood after her son Hamish was born in February last year, after which she developed feelings of anger towards herself and her newborn.
“I would see all these pictures on TV about what is was like having a baby, and hear from other mums, and I didn’t feel like that at all.
“I thought, ‘surely this isn’t right, surely other people feel different’,” Renee said.
After weeks of struggling, Renee ended up in the emergency department at her local hospital and was admitted into a mother-baby unit for the ensuing nine weeks.
PANDA CEO, Terri Smith, maintains social media representations of ideal families could be negatively impacting a large number of new mums.
“Many parents also feel increased pressure as a result of the perceptions of parenting portrayed in the media and on social media, when the reality is very different.
“The stigma attached to not being the perfect, prepared and organised parent leaves many delaying or not seeking help,” said Ms Smith.
“Even though perinatal anxiety and depression is common and affects around 100,000 families across Australia every year, many people still don’t know its signs and symptoms.
“They simply don’t recognise that they are experiencing a serious illness that may require treatment,” Ms Smith said.
“They end up suffering in silence for longer, reducing their enjoyment of what should be a very special time, and potentially even putting their lives at risk.
“This is why it’s critical to educate parents, partners, their loved ones and the wider community to help identify perinatal anxiety and depression and to reduce the stigma and shame often associated with seeking help,” said Ms Smith.
If you or a loved one require support for perinatal depression or anxiety, contact the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306 or head to www.panda.org.au.