A new survey has shown that one third of people believe new parents are too quick to diagnose themselves with postnatal depression.

A new survey has shown that one third of people believe new parents are too quick to diagnose themselves with postnatal depression. Photo: Getty Images

There’s a stereotype that floats around of older mothers being, well, pretty high-strung. They’ve waited so long to have their kids that when they do the pressure is too much and they become overly stressed by their ideals and plans – or so the story goes.

But a new survey suggests it might actually be younger mothers who experience more stress.

All up 42 per cent of mothers found the experience was much more stressful than they expected (compared to 24 per cent of men), according to the survey of more than 1000 Australians, commissioned by the Mental Health Association NSW.

But it was the younger parents who seemed to be suffering the most. They were more likely to have more negative memories of their experiences of being a parent, and nearly a third of them remembered feeling like other people were coping better than them, or having excessive worry and sadness.

That’s a whole lot of people finding parenthood scary, and uncertain.

Interestingly, overall the men seemed to be a lot more relaxed about the whole business than the women.

About 66 per cent of the men surveyed said they were a good parent, compared to less than half of the women.

Less than half! Do we really have so many substandard parents slowly stuffing up their kids lives, or are we being way, way to hard on ourselves?

The chief executive of the Association, Elizabeth Priestley, says it’s completely natural for new parents to feel anxious or a little bit down as they adjust to their new roles as a parent.

“It becomes a problem when it starts to effect the way you function on a daily basis. When it becomes in fact that you can’t get up in the morning or are feeling completely unwell”.

Priestley says it’s important to talk about your anxieties, as well as more serious symptoms if they occur – although she cautions that not all people will have helpful advice (particularly if they have not had a hard time themselves).

One statistic that I found strange, and a little bit shocking in this survey, was one third of people thought new parents are too quick to think they have postnatal depression.

This week is postnatal depression week, and the Post and Antenatal Depression Association has released their own report, done by Deloitte Access Economics*, which found that perinatal depression will affect nearly 100,000 new parents in 2012.

That’s 1 in 7 new mothers and 1 in 20 new fathers.

These figures seem pretty high, but when you look at the type of pressure parents are under – both the physical and emotional pressure of caring for a new child, and also the social pressure we appear to be placing on ourselves – perhaps they’re not that surprising.

Periods of depression are a pretty common part of life, with it likely about a third of us will experience it at some time, and pregnancy can even trigger more serious mental illness.

About 1 in every 1000 women experience psychosis after giving birth, a terrifying experience that is made all the more worse by the appalling lack of hospital-based services that allow them to stay with their children if they need to be admitted to care.

In NSW, the disgraceful lack of public hospital mother and baby units means some women can be forced to give up their child, if they experience psychosis and have no partner or family members who can care for the baby while they are treated in hospital.

So compared to that anxiety and depression might not seem so bad, but for women and men living through it, it can feel like your whole world.

And, as the survey from the Mental Health Association found, it can be hard to know what to do about it. About 40 per cent of people are not sure if they could realise the symptoms of postnatal depression in another person, with men particularly unsure.

It’s just another example of how many of us still don’t feel confident talking about our own mental health problems, or asking someone else if they are doing ok.

But the reality is that parenting difficulties are incredibly common – from everyday stresses and anxieties through the more severe mental illnesses – and we should all be willing to share our stories and be honest about that fact.

Post and Ante Natal Depression Association (PANDA): 1300 726 306

Beyondblue: 1300 224 636 http://justspeakup.com.au/

*normally I don’t like to cover reports done by these guys, but in this case I’ve make an exception. Seriously, though, have you ever heard of a report by them that didn't find something completely in the interests of the company that commissioned it?