If you or someone you know is about to become a parent or has recently become a parent, you can expect to experience some lifestyle changes. Many new parents can experience perinatal mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety (‘perinatal’ refers to the period leading up to birth, and the first year after birth). Perinatal mental illness can usually be managed with the right help, so the most important first step is to acknowledge the struggle and ask for help.
Signs that you or someone you know may need support include:
- Sudden mood swings
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviours
- Panic attacks
- Feeling emotionally ‘numb’
- Feeling nervous a lot of the time
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty sleeping, even when the baby is sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Thoughts of suicide
- Thoughts of harming the baby
- Trouble concentrating
- Decrease interest in socialising
- Changes to appetite
- Increase substance use
- Changes in behaviour for two weeks or longer
- Crying a lot or for no apparent reason
Some of these symptoms are difficult to spot from the outside, and there are also signs and symptoms not listed here. Support your loved one through their parenting journey by initiating conversations about how they are feeling, and offering to help where you can.
How to support a loved one struggling as a new parent
If someone close to you is experiencing perinatal depression, anxiety, or the overwhelm which can come with being a new parent, you can support them by:
- Offering practical support, like doing a grocery shop or cooking a meal.
- Offering to babysit so the carer can take some time to themselves.
- Asking your loved one what you can do that would be helpful to them.
- Encouraging your loved one to seek help.
- Providing emotional support by listening to their feelings and trying to be empathetic.
- Reminding your loved one that perinatal anxiety or depression is not a failure or a reflection on them as a parent.
- Providing resources such as PANDA’s National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline: 1300 726 306
As a support person to a new parent, you can play an important role in their wellbeing. It is not your responsibility to ‘fix’ a loved one who is struggling. Instead, do your best to communicate that you are a safe person to whom they can confide their struggles. Many mental health battles can be managed with support and may even be temporary. Remember to take care of yourself first and foremost; often, the healthier you are, the better support you can be.