Much more than the 'baby blues'

Perinatal depression is more than the 'baby blues' for many rural mums

Life & Style
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Increased isolation in rural communities suggests perinatal depression is higher among the farming community, but that isolation should not be a barrier to getting support.

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Stephanie Trethewey with her son, Elliot, while pregnant with her daughter, Evie.

Stephanie Trethewey with her son, Elliot, while pregnant with her daughter, Evie.

You will make an amazing parent.

Best thing we ever did was having kids.

It'll be the making of you.

You're lucky to have such a lovely baby.

THEY are all things said to women either before or after they become a mother.

For some women, however, there is a dramatic gulf between the reassurances and the reality.

It's estimated that one in five women and one in 10 men will experience anxiety and/or depression in the perinatal period, according to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA).

But the increased isolation in rural communities would suggest that this statistic is higher among the farming community.

In general terms, the perinatal period encompasses both the antenatal (from conception to birth) and postnatal (12 months from birth) periods.

For the co-founder of Tasmanian Agricultural Company, Stephanie Trethewey, having her first baby was isolating and a shock.

Mrs Trethewey and her husband, Sam, had been living in the city, but six months after the birth of their first child, they bought a farm in Tasmania and made the move back to Mr Trethewey's home state.

"Motherhood was just an absolute disaster for me," she said.

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"It was a real transformation for me going from being a really career-driven woman to feeling very isolated, being 'just a mum', and then living in a rural area with no connections to friends or family.

"I didn't find motherhood the best thing to ever happen to me; I think my expectations of motherhood were too high and I think I went into it with rose-tinted glasses.

"To be honest, I think I was pretty disappointed in that first year and I definitely struggled."

Being a "city girl", with a strong reliance on family and friends, the feeling of isolation in Tasmania seemed to bring perinatal depression to the fore.

"I missed my friends, the support from the mothers' group, even not having people nearby was really hard for me," she said.

"And just like many women who run a farming business with their husband, I was home alone a lot while Sam was working on the farm."

But Mrs Trethewey's motherhood struggle became the inspiration for Motherland Australia.

As a former TV reporter, she started the Motherland Australia podcast to fill a gaping hole she felt while she was living in rural Australia. That gaping hole was being able to connect with other mothers.

Already, she has clocked up nearly 100 conversations with rural mums sharing the real, raw and unfiltered story of motherhood.

"I wanted to know that I wasn't alone and that some of the challenges I was facing as a mum were understandable," she said.

"Mums are the backbone of our rural communities and are often the glue that holds everything together.

"Unfortunately, many rural women face crippling isolation and struggle with their own mental health due to their location, or a lack of local services and support.

"It's my hope that by breaking the stigma surrounding motherhood and mental health on the land, we can start to uncover what is really required to create meaningful change for rural mums across Australia and give them the support they desperately need."

Mrs Trethewey said she was also excited about the work organisations such as Gidget Foundation Australia were doing in mental health services via telehealth to allow parents to seek help.

"It's such a private thing to be going through and it's hard to have that anonymity in a small community if you reach out for help locally," she said.

She said being able to access mental health services online was important for farming families.

Mrs Trethewey recently teamed up with award-winning South Australian clinical psychologist and grazier Stephanie Schmidt to speak about perinatal mental health as part of an ongoing online talk series, Walk With Me.

Stephanie Schmidt with her son, Darcy. Photo: Robyn Bradbook, Silversprings Photography

Stephanie Schmidt with her son, Darcy. Photo: Robyn Bradbook, Silversprings Photography

Walk With Me is hosted by Aussie-founded ag-tech companyMaiaGrazing and is designed as frank conversations led by graziers who have been affected by mental health challenges.

The purpose of the bi-yearly Walk With Me series is to normalise talking about mental health so that farmers can identify issues and seek help in time.

Ms Schmidt is not only a clinical psychologist, but also a mum who faced mental health challenges after the birth of her first and third child.

"Being in a farming family has given me a unique perspective on perinatal mental health, as I've experienced postnatal depression twice after the birth of my first and third sons," she said.

"This lived insight has helped me in my practice.

"I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the challenges that rural mums and dads encounter that may exacerbate and prolong depression."

Ms Schmidt was the 2020 South Australian AgriFutures Rural Women's Awardwinner and is the founder of a program called ACT for Ag.

Through ACT for Ag, Ms Schmidt facilitates in-person community workshops and online live courses to build capacity and resilience for farmers and rural communities.

She said the online resources were particularly useful during her personal experience with postnatal depression.

"The Gidget Foundation has some useful online and telehealth resources for parents," she said.

"I linked in with PANDA and they've got peer support sessions.

"They've got an online program and I got linked with a peer support worker where we would have a weekly ring and check-in to see how I was going and that was really helpful because I think part of it is that feeling of isolation."

She said the GP was also a really good resource and the website www.mumspace.com.au.

"The app on MumSpace is MindMum and there are also two online treatment options - MumMoodBooster and Mum2BMood Booster," she said.

"The thing is that resources are there, but it's just knowing where to look and finding them," she said.

Gidget Foundation Australia is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to support the emotional wellbeing of expecting and new parents to ensure they receive timely, appropriate, and specialist care.

It has support services for families suffering emotional distress during pregnancy and early parenting and also offers education and awareness programs for health professionals and the community.

Gidget's Start Talking program with perinatal mental health specialists provides a minimum of 10 psychological counselling sessions free of charge within a calendar year.

To access this service, a referral from a GP is needed, including a mental health care plan.

Resources and further reading

Gidget Foundation, gidgetfoundation.org.au or 1300 851 758

ACT for Ag, www.actforag.com.au

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), www.panda.org.au or national helpline 1300 726 306

MumSpace, www.mumspace.com.au with links to MindMum app

Motherland Australia, www.motherlandaustralia.com.au

MaiaGrazing Walk With Me, www.maiagrazing.com/walk-with-me-mothers-shoulders

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