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New Postnatal Depression Research Shows Support Lacking


A new report released by Mothers’ Helpers, has revealed serious gaps in the treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety in New Zealand.

Mothers’ Helpers, a charity providing support to mothers under stress and at-risk of perinatal depression (PND), surveyed 100 mothers across the country who have experienced postnatal depression. The survey, titled Postnatal Depression in New Zealand and Feedback on Maternal Health Services, uncovered substantial 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 postpartum, yet just 19 per cent were diagnosed during these stages. 59 per cent had experienced a previous depressive episode, putting them at a high risk of developing perinatal depression/anxiety, while 37 per cent possessed a range of additional risk-factors for postnatal depression. Despite these risk factors, 72 per cent failed to be assessed for depression or anxiety by their midwife during or post pregnancy.

The report outlines delayed diagnosis during the perinatal phase is likely a result of a lack of screening and assessment during pregnancy or postnatally. These findings are echoed in the 2012 Growing Up In NZ Survey, which found one in eight mothers experience antenatal depression.

Kristina Paterson, Founder of Mothers’ Helpers and a registered nurse of 18 years, says early detection and treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety is considered ‘best practice’ internationally.

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

Paterson says early intervention can also result in considerable cost savings for a country’s health services.

“If we were to base the cost of perinatal mental illness in New Zealand on the UK analysis, where 72% of costs were attributed to the effects on children, we would be estimating of $23,345 per mother - or around $200 million per year,” she adds.

Survey results also show information about perinatal depression and anxiety and support for those experiencing it is inadequate. Despite 96 per cent of mothers surveyed being at-risk of developing postnatal depression, 42 per cent said they were not given any information about postnatal depression during their pregnancy while 50 per cent said they were not given information about postnatal depression at the time they went for help.

Paterson says the survey results are of “major concern”.

“We estimate postnatal depression and anxiety to be around 15-20% but when our screening is inadequate, we really don’t know how widespread the problem really is,” she says. “If mothers with clear risk factors are not being assessed for perinatal depression or anxiety and that results in delayed or even missed diagnosis and treatment then we have a problem.

Through recognising the gaps in New Zealand primary maternal health services, Mothers’ Helpers has been providing an affordable evidenced-based 10-week perinatal depression recovery programme since April 2014. The charity reports significant improvements in depressive symptoms for all mothers upon completion of the programme with the majority making a full recovery from perinatal depression and/or anxiety.

PND Awareness Week runs from 31 October to 8 November 2015. The Postnatal Depression in New Zealand and Feedback on Maternal Health Services report has been shared with the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

* 2012, Ministry of Health, Healthy Beginnings


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