'More common than you think'

Barb Long
Barb Long
Christchurch GP Denise Nicholson believes doctors will see increasing numbers of women with postnatal depression.

Dr Nicholson, chairwoman of the Postnatal Depression Family/Whanau New Zealand Trust, says more women going into now pregnancy have either had anxiety or been depressed in the past.

And often they have no family members living nearby to offer support.

Christchurch has the country's only perinatal psychiatric inpatient unit where mothers and babies can stay together.

In Otago, there is no specialist perinatal team and a support service which was to have started a year ago was stalled through lack of funding from the Otago District Health Board.

However, group manager (mental health and community services) Elaine Chisnall says there is good liaison between the board and the tertiary provider at the Canterbury District Health Board and that this level of specialist service is provided for the South Island.

A limited service will be provided in Dunedin by Plunket next year after more than $26,000 was raised by a fashion show held by the Zonta Club of Metropolitan Dunedin and attended by 440 people.

The show's chairwoman, Lyn Farry, says the health board's announcement in July that it could no longer fund the Plunket service seemed an "outrageous lack of awareness" of a serious problem affecting 10% to 15% of mothers, and a cause Zonta could not ignore.

Plunket operations manager for Otago and Southland Barb Long says from February a Plunket nurse will be employed one day a week at the Dunedin Family Centre to support women with postnatal depression.

The service, which will be available only to those enrolled with Plunket, will include parenting education, baby massage sessions and one-on-one time with women to look at how they are adjusting to parenthood and what support they need.

Postnatal depression affects about 13% of mothers, or about 160 women a year seen by Plunket in Dunedin, Long says.

"It's more common than you think."

Having to hold community events to fund health services is "less than ideal", she adds.

"But that's the way things are right now and it was really affirming to see that many people support not only Plunket but what is predominantly a hidden or silent illness."

Dr Nicholson says it is a worry that many women with postnatal depression are not diagnosed and treated early enough.

She wants the New Zealand Government to follow the lead of the Australian one and fund an assessment during pregnancy to identify women who are anxious or depressed and who may have problems after their babies are born.

While the medical profession recognises postnatal depression as a significant illness, some people do not take it seriously, she adds.

Often these are family members, who think if the woman just tries harder or "pulls her socks up and gets on with it", things will improve.

Later this month, the trust will officially launch its website, www.mothersmatter.co.nzThe service started late last year to provide information on postnatal depression to mothers, fathers, their families and the medical profession.



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