Free mental health service for mums

Helping hand . . . Plunket nurses Nic Morgan (left) and Susie Campbell support South Canterbury mothers struggling with perinatal mental health. PHOTO: CONNOR HALEY

While parenthood is generally expected to be a joyous and celebratory time, for many mothers that is not always the case.

The first week of May is perinatal mental health awareness week, a time to focus on understanding and highlighting the help available for people suffering from perinatal mental health issues.

South Canterbury is one of the only places in New Zealand to have free access to a perinatal adjustment programme (PNAP).

The programme is provided by South Canterbury Plunket and run by Plunket nurses Nic Morgan and Susie Campbell.

Mrs Morgan said she believed there was still a bit of a stigma when it came to asking for help.

‘‘It’s hard for mothers to put their hands up and say they’re not feeling great because it’s supposed to be such a joyous time and everybody is so excited for them.

‘‘There’s so much promise and hope that goes with having a baby but suddenly for them the change is enormous.

‘‘It’s hard to say I’m not coping or I’m not enjoying my baby — that’s a really hard thing for a mother to say but it’s often very much the case when we see them.

‘‘Postnatal depression is quite like normal clinical depression except you’ve got a baby.

‘‘How you manage depression is to rest more, sleep more, eat well, exercise and do things that help your mood but none of those things are very easy when you’ve got a baby.’’

She said the great thing about perinatal distress, depression or adjustment was that people do recover.

‘‘Giving them that hope that they’ll feel better is actually a lot of it.

‘‘I think the stigma is broken by the work you do.

‘‘If mothers have been through the service and it’s been helpful to them they usually tell people.’’

Mrs Campbell said the programme was very flexible in how it could be applied.

‘‘We see people at home which is really an advantage especially if people aren’t able to get out as easy.

‘‘We’ll set up a plan with them around what will be helpful, whether that will be them coming to visit us or us going to them.

‘‘Primarily what we do is talking therapy. We’ve developed our own little thing that works for us in terms of what is supportive for mums.’’

A South Canterbury mother who had used the programme said she was grateful to have had access to it.

‘‘It gave me the tools to help process the anxiety I had developed postpartum.

‘‘I was finding the transition into motherhood overwhelming.

‘‘The first step was asking for help which I sought through my GP who then immediately referred me to the PNAP programme.

‘‘Nic Morgan visited me at home and gave me so many breathing and mindset shifting strategies which helped me work through situations that caused me anxiety — situations that were second nature to me before having a child such as going to work, shopping at the supermarket or leaving the house.

‘‘The support that PNAP gave me helped mitigate my fear of the outside world.

‘‘The grounding and mindfulness techniques I was provided still help me daily.

‘‘I am so thankful for the service and encourage all mums who are feeling anxious or depressed to talk to their GP or Plunket nurse.’’

The free service is funded by Health NZ — Te Whatu Ora South Canterbury and families can ask their midwife, GP or Well Child provider for a referral to the programme. Selfreferrals are also welcomed.