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It's a difficulty many mums face, you are tired, you are overwhelmed and you are battling, at the same time, it may seem like there is no one to talk to and besides, you should be coping, right? Right?

Auckland-based clinical psychologist, Dr Natalie Flynn believes there are many mums in New Zealand who, if they receive help while their postnatal depression (PND) is still mild, could be saved months and years of having to battle with the condition.

The problem however, is that many mums with mild to moderate PND battle with the early stages of this common disorder without any help because they do not qualify for publicly-funded assistance.

"The difficulty is we have great services like the Maternal Mental Health Service and the Community Mental Health Services, but they are for women with moderate to severe postnatal depression," Dr Flynn explains.

For this reason, Dr Flynn and her colleague psychologist Alexandra Winlove, have launched a new service in central Auckland called Getting Ahead of Postnatal Depression (GAPD), specifically aimed at mums with mild to moderate PND.

Dr Flynn says that like many mental health problems, PND is on a continuum, which means mild cases will invariably progress to moderate and ultimately severe depression if there is no intervention.

"If these women get intervention when they are suffering from mild to moderate postnatal depression it not only helps to resolve their depression but it also helps difficulties that might arise from their depression in terms of attachment with their children and in the long run, an already overloaded mental health system when their condition changes from moderate to severe," she says.

What is the GAPD programme?

The GAPD programme was developed by academics and practitioners at the internationally recognised Parent Infant Research Institute (PIRI) in Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian state-wide programme has been running for 13 years and is now in its fourth phase of research and development.

Both Dr Flynn and Winlove have completed intensive on-site training at PIRI in Melbourne, combined with many years of experience in psychological and mental health services for adults, children and adolescents.

Because the therapy  is group-based, women can receive therapy from trained psychologists at half the cost of one-on-one therapy, Dr Flynn says.

Sessions cost $90 each and while the first full course of 12 sessions held over nine weeks in Epsom and Mt Eden from February 2013, she is hopeful that in time the same service will be offered across New Zealand.

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"We would love it if the programme did catch on and if it were possible for the same groups to be formed in other areas in the country. All we can do at the moment is open the group where we are living. But we are hoping once people can see how helpful it can be that it will spread."

What is Postnatal depression?

Otherwise known as Postpartum depression, it is a type of clinical depression that can affect women and less frequently men .

Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced libido, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability.

Although a number of risk factors have been identified, the causes of PND are not well understood although many women recover with a treatment consisting of a support group or counselling.

According to research in the UK, professional counsellors can reduce rates of postnatal depression by 40 per cent, while support from other mothers can reduce the risk of developing the dangerous disorder by half.

Dr Flynn says many people don't understand PND and it is sometimes difficult to tease out what are the normal outcomes from having a baby, like sleep deprivation, from more serious problems.

"We often talk about the myths of motherhood, where society tells many women that they should love every part of motherhood and when you have a baby you should just cope. Unfortunately in modern times women are expected to cope alone," she says.

"For many women they don't want to front up and are sometimes in denial about how they are feeling. They think they should just cope because they are tired, when in fact they could be suffering from PND."

With 10 to 15 per cent of mothers known to be suffering from PND, there are many more who may battle along and over time become more depressed.

While new mothers may be experiencing the same feelings, because the condition is not always understood and openly discussed, many mums feel isolated.

It is for this reason Dr Flynn is hoping the GADP programme will be able to help mothers, in a group setting, to realise they are not alone and they are not bad mothers for feeling the way they are and that being told to "snap out of it" or to "pull themselves together" will not help.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to let your family and friends know how you are feeling and accept help when it's offered.

Talk to your doctor, midwife or Plunket nurse to see what treatment and help is available.

Plunket also has a 24 hour helpline 0800 933 922. Other helplines include the Ministry of Health's Healthline 0900 611 116 to talk to a registered nurse or the Depression helpline on 0800 111 757.
 
If you are in Auckland and are interested in joining the GADP programme, visit www.emotionalhealthservices.co.nz .

- Essential Mums

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