Mental health ignored in Australian parents

A recent survey of Australian parents by St John of God Health Care has revealed the majority were not asked about their mental health during pregnancy or early parenting.

St John of God Health Care mental health in new parents

12 November 2019

The results showed that less than one in five Australians parents were asked by another person about their mental health or emotional wellbeing during pregnancy or early parenting.

Doctors, health professionals (such as nurses) and partners were the most common people to ask about a parent’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

St John of God Raphael Services NSW Clinical Lead Psychiatrist Dr Alice Dwyer said the results showed that mental health check ins, ideally by general practitioners, were needed to help more people at risk.

“We know that more than one in seven mums and one in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression each year in Australia and postnatal anxiety is just as common,” she said.

“If less than 20 per cent of parents are being asked about their mental health during this time then we are potentially missing a large number of parents who are not coping and need extra support.”

More than one in three parents also reported through the survey that they found pregnancy and parenthood more challenging than they expected.

Dr Dwyer said helping mums and dads adjust to the emotional stressors of being a new parent, along with any physical changes, was essential to the family’s overall wellbeing.

“Babies establish strong connections with their parents in the first days, weeks and months of their lives. These connections help the baby build their resilience as they grow and develop,” she said.

“When the mother or father is experiencing mental health issues, establishing these connections is more difficult and the whole family struggles.”

Dr Dwyer said seeking help from professionals, such as your GP, can help you build your skills and enjoy parenting.

“Speak to your GP, they can help you identify what support and care would benefit you most,” she said.

“Support may include community care through services such as St John of God Raphael Services, which provides no cost perinatal mental health support for mums and families, or in hospital care such as St John of God Burwood Hospital’s Mother and Baby Unit.”