14 Aug 2023

Why don't we talk about postnatal depression?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 14 August 2023

It's taken a tragedy to lift postpartum depression out of the shadows of women's health and into the national consciousness.

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Maternal mental health is in the spotlight thanks to the Lauren Dickason murder trial

And as awful as the vehicle for it is, it's about time we talked about it. 

Along with periods, endometriosis and menopause, postpartum depression is an issue that for too long has been hidden under the cloak of women's health issues. 

"I think raising awareness of the issue, the possible impacts on both mum, baby and the partner and wider family, is just so important – because we need to build a support system around the family," says Dr Felicia Low, who leads Koi Tū's Knowledge Hub for Maternal and Child Health at the University of Auckland.

That awareness is lacking right now, although it has been growing in recent years.

But Dr Low says there's a huge amount that people need to learn about the condition and what can be done about it.

Dr Low says post-partum, or postnatal, depression is a combination of a host of issues, including dramatic hormonal changes the body goes through during pregnancy and after birth. 

There can also be societal factors – poor housing, family violence, poverty and isolation among them – or a history of depression, a difficult pregnancy, traumatic birth or a difficult baby. 

"It can be very overwhelming to suddenly be holding this brand new baby, and feeling all this sense of responsibility for a brand new life, and not knowing how things might happen. Throw in the fact that you've just given birth, it's been exhausting." 

Postpartum depression is far more serious than the so-called "baby blues", where a woman might spend a couple of weeks feeling low, crying for no reason and being miserable. 

"Baby blues tend to resolve by themselves over maybe one or two weeks, but post-partum depression involves much more severe symptoms, so everything is heightened, and they last much longer as well. 

"If you recognise that's what is going on, then you really need to seek help." 

There is new hope on the horizon in the form of the first ever pill to treat the condition, which has just been approved by federal health authorities in the United States. 

Also on The Detail, we speak to legal academic Kris Gledhill, who teaches criminal law and has a particular interest in the overlap between law and mental health matters, at the Auckland University of Technology. 

He's written a piece for The Conversation spelling out what infanticide means.

Gledhill explains why infanticide is the only defence in New Zealand to use a claim of diminished responsibility as a partial defence against homicide – and the historic reasons for that, including a distaste of sending a woman to the gallows for killing her children. 

Where to get help:

Plunket: Looking after you - Post-natal depression

Ministry of Health: Post-natal depression

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Aotearoa

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: free counselling for 5 to 19 years old, online chat 11am-10.30pm 7days/week or free phone 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 11am-11pm Asian Family Services: 0800 862 342 Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm or text 832 Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm. Languages spoken: Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and English.

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

OUTLine: 0800 688 5463 (6pm-9pm)

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