Push to boost mums' mental health

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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Gaps in helping mothers cope with mental illness are being addressed by the Hawke's Bay District Health Board (DHB).
Gaps in helping mothers cope with mental illness are being addressed by the Hawke's Bay District Health Board (DHB).

Gaps in helping mothers cope with mental illness are being addressed by the Hawke's Bay District Health Board (DHB).

Home visits by a specialist maternal mental-health nurse are planned to resume in January 2016.

Visits are now made by a dedicated maternal mental-health social worker, supported by a specialist psychiatrist, after the sole maternal mental-health nurse resigned and finished in August.

The service is supported by community mental-health teams, with mental-health nurses available.

A DHB spokesperson said after the resignation it continued to provide services through the community teams, which covered the whole of Hawke's Bay.

"They are able to visit people in their own homes to provide care related to any moderate to severe mental-health problem, including post-natal depression," the spokesperson said.

"This team is able to provide assessments and co-ordination of services for women with a range of mental-health problems related to pregnancy and childbirth and including postnatal depression."

A new specialist nurse is due to start in January next year.

One in six mothers and one in 10 fathers (about one in five families) will experience mental illness in the first year after giving birth, says the Perinatal Mental Health NZ Trust. A third of those women will still be experiencing symptoms when their child is 2 years old.

A new report released by charity Mothers' Helpers claims gaps in the treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety in New Zealand.

It surveyed 100 mothers across the country who experienced postnatal depression, with reported delays in diagnosis and inadequate treatment options.

Of the mothers surveyed, 63 per cent experienced symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, either during pregnancy or one week after the birth. Of those, 19 per cent were diagnosed during that time.

Delayed diagnosis during the perinatal phase was probably a result of a lack of screening and assessment during pregnancy or postnatally.

"Research shows that with early diagnosis and intervention mothers recover more quickly and wholly, minimising the impact the illness has on her, her child and her family," Mothers' Helpers founder Kristina Paterson said.

"The earlier we can get in the more likelihood of preventing relationship breakdowns, partner depression and child attachment issues, for example."

Despite being a registered nurse and nanny she had succumbed to postnatal depression.

"Those first nine months of my son's life were so hard. My mood was so low I was crying every single day. My anxiety was so overwhelming - I would beg my husband to return home from work because I felt I couldn't cope with this little baby on my own. In the end it was the lack of energy that pushed me to see the doctor - I just couldn't bear it any more."

Local support-group Sunbeam convener Leslie Aplin said she hoped the DHB's new nurse would support the group.

Plunket no longer gives a screening test "and there isn't much support out there".

-This week is Postnatal Depression Awareness Week. Support group Sunbeam meets on Wednesday mornings at Lulu and Max Family Cafe in Hastings, with new people welcome. Phone Leslie on 021 997 372.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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