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Risk Factors

What Helps or Hinders in the Perinatal Period

The conception journey or when becoming a parent is a time of huge change, challenge, and excitement. This transition can place significant pressure on how a person manages stress, and increases demands on the whole family’s emotional, physical, and material resources. There can be joy as well as overwhelm. This overwhelm can sometimes increase to clinically significant distress that needs more attention and care.

Everyone is vulnerable when a baby is coming along – first time parents, those who’ve journeyed down this path before, parents from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds as well as non-biological parents and other carers such as foster/adopted parents. Mental illness does not discriminate. In fact, In Australia, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience some form of perinatal depression and anxiety.

We all have stories and vulnerabilities that have an impact on us, as well as strengths that can help in difficult times. If distress is escalating into perinatal depression or anxiety, it is usually because of a combination of biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors.

Vulnerabilities include:
– Past or current personal/family history of mental health problems, or substance use issues
– Past or current trauma, abuse, or other stressful experiences
– Relationship difficulties and social isolation
– Unresolved losses or abuse from childhood
– Compromised attachment from our own parents, particularly our mother, in childhood.
– Previous perinatal /pregnancy loss or conception difficulties
– Birth of twins or multiples
– Financial difficulties and limited access to social and practical supports
– LGBTQI+ parents, who face discrimination and lack of support
– Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or CALD without access to culturally aware support systems

Strengths that are protective and could assist in recovery include:
– Reliable, safe, consistent supports, particularly with a partner or close family member
– Adaptive coping strategies such as: emotional awareness and regulation, capacity to self-care and distress tolerance
– Consistency of care and collaboration in decision making during pregnancy
– Financial security
– Help seeking behaviours and access to appropriate resources/services
– Supportive workplace arrangements

Any new or expectant parent can be affected by perinatal depression and /or anxiety, even in the absence of risk factors and presence of protective factors. It is useful to know what both are and to get help as early as possible. If you are not feeling yourself and nothing is helping for two weeks or more, we encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend/family member or health professional to get the support you need.

Date of Last Review: December 2021