One in every eight New Zealand women will experience depression when they are pregnant and 50% of those mums will go on to experience postnatal depression, otherwise known as postpartum depression or PND. We talk to Kristina Paterson, founder of Mothers Helpers – a nationwide organisation dedicated to supporting mothers who are under stress.
Mothers Helpers supports evidenced-based prevention, treatment and recovery options for mothers by taking a holistic approach to health incorporating the physical, psychological, social, mental, cultural and spiritual aspects of a person.
What inspired you to start Mothers Helpers?
My background is nursing. After having my first baby, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression when he was about nine months’ old. What I realised in hindsight was that I experienced ante natal anxiety and postnatal depression for about 18 months before anyone picked it up. It really required me asking for and getting help as opposed to anyone helping me, assessing me, or asking about how I was feeling.
It had been such a difficult road for me, and it felt unnecessary. It felt that if it was picked up early – if I had received help earlier – I would have had a completely different experience being pregnant and as a new mum.
I discovered there really wasn’t much available to women to help them recover other than medication and paid counselling. And it made me think about how many regular families are out there who do need help. Once I started then to talk to mothers I discovered that they we are not currently screening women when they are pregnant, which is a problem.
When is a woman most at risk?
The most vulnerable time for a woman is during pregnancy and the first three months after birth. It can be quite a confusing time – you’re feeling more sleep deprivation than ever before. But it can happen at any time – and it’s not just something that can happen to first time mums.
What does Mothers Helpers do?
Basically, we have a talk to try to establish what is going on with mum. We like to hear and listen to her story so we can identify her issues and work out where we can best support her; what she needs in that very moment. This talk is with a social worker and once we establish an assessment then we go from there on how best we can help mum.
What does that look like?
Sometimes we connect with a woman’s GP, sometimes it’s the department of mental health, or the crisis team. Sometimes it’s helping mum find a counsellor – it all depends on what mum wants.
At what point do mums come to you?
You don’t have to identify with depression or anxiety when coming to Mothers Helpers. You could have the blues. You could be moody or tearful. You can just feel that you’re under stress and come to us, then we’ll help identify what kind of help mum needs.
The reason I suggest for people to come to Mothers Helpers in the first instance is because we are able to help identify the best route for them to get help and we’ll point them in the right direction and talk about the options available to them.
Do you offer courses or support groups for mums?
We have a recovery course that we offer to mum, which is basically talk therapy facilitated by social workers, mental health workers and life coaches. It’s a live online chat with a group of mums who are all experiencing similar things and it’s a form of talk therapy.
Our group meets every three months. There is no cost – the course is completely free while our other groups cost $10 per session – our aim is to keep costs down for mum. The set-up allows mum to access the program wherever she is. Whether she is at home with children or not, whether she’s got a car or not – it doesn’t matter as she can access the group online. For some mums they do our course after their first baby, sometimes they do the course because they’re concerned they could develop depression with an additional child.
How can a woman identify if she has AND or PND?
Quite often when you’re pregnant and especially after you’ve had baby, you have an expectation that it’s going to be difficult with a newborn, but you don’t know what’s normal, and what’s not. Particularly if you’re a first-time mum and you have nothing to compare it to you may not realise that what you’re experiencing is actually not normal.
Currently there’s a low rate of screening women for AND or PND. We encourage women to do the Edinburgh score which gives you the ability to screen yourself. It enables you to keep an eye on how you’re feeling and get help if you’re concerned about the results.
What are the risk factors?
We know what places someone more at risk, but there is no specific cause of postnatal depression. One of the highest risk factors is if you’ve experienced anxiety or depression before – just because it’s a familiar track for your brain. Genetics play a part, but so do many other risk factors.
Someone can have all of the risk factors and not develop depression, and someone might not have any risk factors and can develop it including a healthy person with a normal life. Sure, there is a correlation if a woman is getting less than six hours sleep continuously – and of course that’s the situation for many mothers. Sometimes when I’m talking with mums sleep deprivation is relentless, I think if mum was able to get six hours sleep continuously they can recover.
Isn’t the impact on the entire family?
There’s a huge impact to mum and her partner, but also importantly depression impacts her baby, which is why it’s important that she gets help as quickly as possible.
How is it best for people to contact Mothers Helpers?
The best way for people to find us is mothershelpsers.co.nz – there is a family landing page so whether it’s the mum or her friend or family member looking for information they can find us and ways to contact us, including on 0800 002717
Mothers Helpers believes in an holistic approach to health incorporating the physical, psychological, social, mental, cultural and spiritual aspects of a person.