‘The pressure can be a lot’: The program giving new parents a helping hand with mental health

When Darwin mother Amy Hetherington gave birth to her first child, she said the pressure and fear of not living up to being a good mother was overwhelming.

Key points:

  • 90,000 parents suffer from mental health issues while expecting or caring for a baby
  • A new partnership has been launched to upskill midwifery and nursing students to better support parents with mental health issues
  • The partnership could also lead to new research in the field

"The first few months with a newborn was terrifying and very hard," she said.

"Three days after the birth, I sat in the rocking chair with the baby for 10 hours and didn't move … I had a bit of a panic attack on that day.

"The pressure of keeping a tiny human being alive can be a lot."

While she had support from her family and a local mother's group, Ms Hetherington said it did not replace the need for help from a mental health professional.

"There's this narrative that the mother's instincts will kick in and you're supposed to know what to do … but we don't necessarily know that," she said.

"It's a really hard, stressful time and there's a lot of pressure to do it right."

In Australia, around 300,000 children are born every year but an estimated more than 90,000 parents suffer from mental health issues while expecting or caring for a baby.

A service aiming to support parents

Perinatal specialist Dr Karen Hazell Raine, from the not-for-profit parenting support organisation Karitane, said mental illness and stress during pregnancy and the early years of parenting "affects one in five mothers and one in 10  parenting partners or fathers."

Karitane supports parents in the first five years of a child's life. The organisation helps parents to identify and overcome challenges and provides specialist support, including parenting centres, residential services, mental health, and kids' behaviour clinics.

Dr Raine will lead the new partnership.(ABC News: Adam Griffiths)

"It's not just about the parents' mental health, but the whole state of health," Dr Hazell Raine said.

"We can get in there to assist and identify problems. To do an assessment to provide great information to really empower and inform parents.

"And that's not to put the weight of burden on the parent, but it's to look at the opportunities that we can provide support for them."

Earlier this month, Karitane and Charles Darwin University launched a partnership to strengthen the education and training of midwifery and nursing students in the field of perinatal mental health.

Dr Hazell Raine will take on a conjoint position as Charles Darwin University Nursing and Midwifery Senior Lecturer.

"I have a keen interest in strengthening the roles of midwives and nurses to optimise parent-infant and child mental health and wellbeing, particularly culturally sensitive approaches for Aboriginal, immigrant and refugee populations," Dr Hazell Raine said.

"But I am also excited as well about the research opportunities for students and to supervise new and upcoming innovative research."

Ms Hetherington says the partnership will be a valuable support for parents.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)Hoping to change the lives of many

Ms Hetherington said having a service like this available for new parents would help them to feel supported in their most vulnerable times.

"It would absolutely take a lot of that fear out of those feelings you got in your head that you might not have much control over," she said.

"Anything that supports parents to make our next generation strong and healthier mentally, is a really valuable thing to invest in."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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