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'PANDA Week' shines a light on the importance of perinatal mental health

Giovanni Torre -

The theme of 2022's Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness held this month, 'Building your community of care', resonates with the importance of community-led solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Approximately one in five new and expectant mothers and up to one in 10 non-birth parents experience problematic symptoms of perinatal anxiety and/or depression.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District perinatal infant mental health clinical leader Keryl de Haan and SAFE START coordinator Ashleigh Shipp, along with their fellow district colleagues, came together for multiple events held during PANDA Week to raise awareness of depression and anxiety and how to access help.

The District's Aboriginal Health Coordinator (Maternal Child and Family), Sabrina Brown, told National Indigenous Times that MLHD delivers two key programs for Aboriginal women, Aboriginal families, and families whose children will be Indigenous.

"There is the Aboriginal Maternal Infant Health Service, which is an ante and post-natal program up to six-to-eight weeks after birth, depending on needs of the family, after which they go into the mainstream services or our second program, Building Strong Foundations," she said.

"We refer them to BSF, which is for Aboriginal children, families and communities, in areas where we have early childhood services.

"Both services are based on the values of cultural respect, social justice, facilitating people in issues they may have in their lives and in their local communities, equality, and facilitating access to services."

Ms Brown said the services are flexible, making provision for midwives to conduct home visits if mothers choose.

"We also aim to empower people through learning; education around health, pregnancy, parenting, nutrition, healthy life styles, all in collaboration with the women and their families," she said.

"We like to provide care that is led by the women themselves."

The AMIHS is staffed by midwives working alongside Aboriginal health workers on each site: Wagga Wagga, Narrandera, Griffith and Lake Cargelligo.

BSF operates in Narrandera and Lake Cargelligo.

Ms Brown noted that the first 2,000 days after conception is the most important time in life for brain development, creating connections with people, and setting good health habits

"If women smoke the outcomes for the baby can be long term, low birth weight, asthma, a lot of other issues. It is one of the biggest causes for negative outcomes in babies and children," she said.

"We take a holistic view of health in both antenatal and early childhood services, if people are seeking housing or need referral to other services – we work with them.

"Our Aboriginal health workers support the families socially and emotionally while midwives and nurses deal more with the clinical side."

Ms de Haan said Murrumbidgee Local Health District understands that looking after a newborn is a steep learning curve, even parents who find the transition relatively straightforward can experience feelings of stress, exhaustion and being overwhelmed.

"It is normal to experience a degree of anxiety and 'ups and downs' when expecting a baby and in the months that follow birth. However, some people develop a more pronounced anxiety or lowered mood which can affect their daily life and functioning," she said.

"When this occurs during pregnancy it is known as antenatal anxiety or antenatal depression. Talking to a health professional can help identify symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other conditions and identify helpful strategies, support networks and treatment."

She noted that antenatal anxiety and depression is temporary and treatable and seeking help early has the best outcome.

MLHD staff shared information and resources across the community during PANDA Week to help raise awareness, including at Wagga Wagga City Council Library, Griffith Council Library, Narrandera Park and at Young Hospital.

For help, contact:

PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) helpline: 1300 726 306 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 7.30 pm AEST/AEDT)

Lifeline13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 224 636

Information and support can also be found at www.panda.org.au.

If symptoms are more severe immediate help is available by contacting AccessLine on 1800 800 944.

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