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Mums With Depression Not Accessing Counselling Survey Shows

New Survey Shows Mums Needing Mental Health Treatment Are Not Accessing Counselling Due to Cost

A recent survey of women with perinatal depression released by Maternal Care Action Group, revealed that despite 92% of those diagnosed wanting access to counselling, 69% said they couldn’t afford it.

Access was still limited with those women that did decide to pay privately for counselling, with the vast majority of those women having less than 5 sessions.

Spokesperson for Maternal Care Action Group Kristina Paterson says this is a problem because best practice guidelines show very clearly that GP’s should be offering counselling therapy in the first instance before offering anti-depressant medication:

“When GP’s are put in a position where there are few - if any - funded counselling options available and their patient is not eligible for Maternal Mental Health services, it appears that the only affordable option for them to offer their patient is prescription medication.”

Ms Paterson says women with mild perinatal depression or anxiety may be able to recover without prescription anti-depressant medication if they have access to counselling therapy to go alongside lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise: “When we consider the side effects and the resistance women have to taking anti-depressant prescription medication during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, it seems unethical that we should be making prescription medication the only affordable option.”

Some Primary Health Organisations have access to around 4 sessions of funded therapy for their patients who have depression, but Ms Paterson says this is not enough: “Previous research has shown that there may be some improvement for people with depression or anxiety after 6-8 therapy sessions but the vast majority will experience improvement after a minimum of 6 months of therapy. Ultimately, the option and length of therapy should be based on what will provide the best outcomes for that individual - rather than a treatment plan based solely on cost.”

For Annelize Anthony, depression struck while she was pregnant with her first baby: “At first I struggled to find an appropriate professional to talk to - the GP I saw passed my details on to 'Lifespan' and said someone would be in contact. It took them 3 business days to call me. The downward spiral continued while I waited so I went back to see a GP at the medical centre. This GP referred me to Maternal Mental Health at which point they prescribed me medication, even though I explicitly said that I didn't want to take medication. I was concerned that it could potentially be harmful to my unborn child and that I'd rather have had the option of talking with someone to address my depression that way.

“I then tried to get hold of someone specialising in CBT (upon recommendation from my husband) but failed to get an appointment that week. When I finally received a call from Lifespan, I felt quite relieved since I knew help was on the way. The Therapist was very kind and caring and the sessions with her did help me work through things. These sessions were at my own expense though and at $150 a session I tried to limit the number of consultations I had, since we couldn't afford to spend money on things not in our budget, especially with a baby on the way. We ended up spending more than $1,000 over a few months to get me the help I needed.”

“I do hope that funding will be made available to ensure women will be able to get the help they desperately need, without added financial stress. It definitely is a trigger for me since the thought of being a financial burden on my husband could've pushed me over the edge, if it wasn't for the sense of responsibility I had towards our baby.”

Ms Paterson says that it is imperative that we do not treat mental health one-dimensionally: “Research tells us that the quickest and most effective way to recover from depression and anxiety is through a combination of anti-depressant medication and counselling therapy, yet we are really only providing one of these options. We do not recover from mental illness by taking a pill. We recover from mental illness by taking an holistic approach - that might include prescription medication, but it has to include other things as well, including counselling therapy.”

The survey results were released just days after MCAGNZ’s “Plant Pledge 4 PND” on 1st September where 8,000 flowers were planted to highlight the number of women that experience delays in diagnosis and treatment for perinatal depression in New Zealand every year.


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