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Postnatal Depression Awareness: Who Is At Risk?



Founder of PND-support charity Mothers Helpers, Kristina Paterson, never thought that she would develop Postnatal Depression with her background as a registered nurse and nanny, but looking at the risk-factors she now sees it was inevitable.

It is Postnatal Depression Awareness Week - an illness that affects up to 1 in 5 mothers in New Zealand. Founder of the Charitable Trust Mothers Helpers and Registered Nurse Kristina Paterson was one of those mothers.

"I knew I was at-risk of developing Postnatal Depression - I had a lot of stress going on during my pregnancy and I'd had clinical depression before." Despite sharing her concerns with her midwife, Kristina was never assessed for anxiety or depression. Through conversations with her therapist, she now knows that her depression and anxiety symptoms started in pregnancy, yet she was not diagnosed until 18 months later.

Kristina is not alone in her experience of delayed diagnosis. Mothers Helpers recently released survey results of 100 kiwi mothers who had experienced Postnatal Depression, showing 63% of mothers' symptoms started during pregnancy yet only 19% were diagnosed at that time.

"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 anymore".

Yet seeing the doctor was just the beginning of her journey of recovery. Medication was not a miracle-cure: "It took a while to start feeling better. I was never told what it would take to recover or where I could go for support - I was just given medication and left to figure it out on my own." For Kristina, the gaps she experienced had a high price: "Perinatal Depression and Anxiety definitely played its part in the breakdown of my marriage. I was angry and irritable and I couldn't get control of my emotions. It also robbed me of what should have been a joyful time with my son - and I'll never get that time back."

It was experiencing these gaps that led to Kristina starting Charitable Trust Mothers Helpers who work with mothers at-risk or suffering with Perinatal Depression: "If I could prevent one mother from experiencing some of the effects I'd experienced, then it would be worth it." That was five years ago and since that time, Mothers Helpers has helped hundreds of mothers in their recovery from Perinatal Depression. "I really wanted to provide them with the kind of support that would help them to recover as quickly as possible" Kristina says.

Writing the 10-week Postnatal Depression Recovery Programme was a turning point for the organisation: "I decided to pull together everything I'd learned over the years about recovery - everything that studies showed helped mothers to recover we put in our programme" Kristina says. The result was that the majority of mothers that attended had no depressive symptoms at the end of the course.

This is no small achievement - there is no programme like it in New Zealand that is available at community level that clearly shows it assists mothers' recovery from Postnatal Depression. This has won the attention of the Ministry of Health who are supporting the idea that District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations fund a programme in their area. "We're hoping that DHB's and PHO's will see that the early detection and recovery of mothers with Postnatal Depression is not only best for mum, but for her partner and her children," Kristina says: "Postnatal Depression affects the whole family."

The mother of one describes her work with Mothers Helpers as the most fulfilling work of her career: "Starting a Charitable Trust is no walk in the park. It's challenged me in every way imaginable and there have been times that we've hung on by a thread.." Kristina refers to deficits in financial and human resources: "There have been moments when I've wanted to throw in the towel, but I just couldn't - even at our lowest point where I wondered how we could ever be successful, I just couldn't turn away from these mothers' stories. I had to offer them support. I knew that they'd have no support if I gave up." Kristina pledges that she will keep fighting until a PND Recovery course like the one they're offering is available in every part of New Zealand.

This year, Mothers Helpers wants to focus Postnatal Depression Awareness week on identifying who is at-risk of developing Postnatal Depression so they can get help as soon as possible. They are encouraging expectant and new mothers possessing these risk-factors to regularly request the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression assessment from their midwife or to access this tool themselves via the Mothers Helpers website.

You can support the work of Mothers Helpers by purchasing this beautiful pendant - made exclusively for PND Awareness week by KJ Designs - each pendant sold donates $15 to Mothers Helpers.

Postnatal Depression Awareness Week is 31st October-8th November.

For more information or help, or if you would like to get involved, contact Mothers Helpers:

Phone: 0800 002 717 or 022 093 1822


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