A Maungaturoto mother is spearheading a national campaign to increase Government funding for women to receive more help for antenatal and postnatal depression.
Kristina Paterson, of Maternal Care Action Group NZ, presented a 4000-signature petition to Parliament last week for Mother’s Day asking for designated funding towards community-based early intervention programmes and increased midwife training to help prevent delays in identifying, referring and treating mothers with depression and anxiety.
She says up to 97 per cent of new mothers who have depression do not fit current criteria for Maternal Mental Health referral, and two-thirds of women who are eventually diagnosed will experience significant delays before diagnosis.
“Maternal mental health has been neglected for a very long time and it needs to be addressed,” Kristina says. “There are gaps all the way through the system – from lack of education through to poor identification of antenatal and postnatal depression. When we know the lasting impact untreated depression and anxiety has on an entire family, it just beggars belief that we have no funded holistic services.”
Kristina believes current screening of women is insufficient in identifying when a mother is depressed, and is calling for increased training for midwives and Plunket nurses to help them recognise the signs more readily.
Kristina first started advocating for mothers’ mental health seven years ago, when she formed the non-profit organisation Mothers Helpers in a bid to address the gaps in mothers’ mental health services, as a result of her own experiences.
“I had experience of postnatal depression myself, and I wasn’t diagnosed for 18 months,” she says. “It had a massive impact on my life, my children and my family, so I wanted to do something to help other people going through the same thing.
“In my first trimester I told my midwife, ‘I think I’m at risk of developing postnatal depression’. I had a number of risk factors including a previous episode of clinical depression, but my midwife never once screened me or asked about any of my symptoms.
“Support during labour and postnatally was very, very poor. In fact, there was no health professional that ever asked me about how I was doing in myself or screened me for depression at any point. It wasn’t until things were extremely bad, when my baby was nine months old, that I finally went to the doctor and he diagnosed me with postnatal depression. By that time, my energy was so terrible that it took all my willpower just to get off the couch and attend to my baby’s needs. I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed. After that, the only real help available to me was prescription medication. I had to pay for my own counselling and there was just nothing else out there for me.”
Mothers Helpers devised a holistic recovery programme, which has been shown to help more than 65 per cent of attendees to fully recover from postnatal depression, with an average 51 per cent improvement in symptoms. However, despite the charity’s best efforts, it has failed to secure Government funding so has to charge for its services.