26 May 2009

Depression test for new Australian mums

It won't be long before new Australian mums will be screened for postnatal depression thanks to the work of the national depression group beyond blue. The group is in talks with the federal government to introduce the test and also to support a British study of 1400 women that has revealed that mothers of twins and triplets are almost twice as likely to become depressed. According to recent stats, almost 16% of Aussie mums develop some form of depression and for the most part, help only comes when women are already depressed. A measure to screen new mums nationally would be a step in identifying the triggers for depression and getting women help much earlier. The truth is that many women become depressed antenatally (during pregnancy) but the depression is never identified until postpartum. Based on the results of the British data, beyond blue deputy chief executive Nicole Highet has said that Australian mothers of multiples are at a greater risk of becoming depressed often because of the trauma or challenges involved in getting pregnant (complications with IVF, for example) and in getting the babies into the world safely (caesareans, separation after birth, etc). This is aside from the fact that while having one baby is exhausting, having two or three newborns can be even more so. On top of this, the unrealistic pressures placed on mothers today only makes for a perfect platform for emotional collapse. Highet argues:

"Long-term untreated PND can cause delayed cognitive and emotional development in the baby. The benefits of picking up PND early are immense."

Postnatal depression especially effects the partners of women: Highet notes that 50-60% of partners are also depressed.

Help can not come soon enough. It's amazing: for all of the technology that has managed to save babies in the long run in the US and Australia, for instance, at the same time, technology has also managed to fundamentally change the ways in which women get pregnant, give birth and do motherhood. It is frustrating that with all of the changes that have come to maternity since the rise of hospital birth and obstetrics as a legitimate profession during the Industrial Revolution, there have been very few measures enacted that are solely designed to support mothers emotionally and psychologically. Up until now, we have been very focused on outcomes, making sure the 'products' of birth (e.g. babies) are healthy and that mothers come out on the other end alive. While this is an obvious mark of progress historically (especially in light of my recent post about birth in Tanzania), at the same time, if our mothers aren't happy and well, there is little chance that our babies will also remain healthy and well. Women who are supported (by partners, friends, families, midwives, etc) do much better statistically than women who go at pregnancy, birth and motherhood alone (and this is not implying that all women need to have partners to be good mums). Historically, it has been much more intellectually satisfying for medical professionals to focus on the physical problems associated with pregnancy and birth. Yet, the pastoral care for the mother is extraordinarily important perhaps even more so than the intensive care of infants. The people that ultimately care for babies are parents, and by and large mothers.

If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

1 comment:

Cherryskin said...

While I am fully and absolutely behind any extra support new mothers get, I still think that the full-on, difficult, mixed sometimes depression-like feelings experienced by new mothers should be normalised. Seriously, it IS normal to feel a whole bunch of weird s**t and like you're not coping sometimes. I guess the difficulty lies in where to draw the line between normal difficulties and dangerously not coping.

But it bothers me that new mothers think all their difficult feelings are abnormal, because it puts extra pressure/guilt on them, especially seeing all the celebrities cooing blissfully over their babies in the glossies (just before handing them back to the nanny and running off to make it on time for their personal training session).

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