Early identification and support key to treating antenatal depression
Media Release - 24 August 2015
The Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand Trust (PMHNZT) welcomes new research released today which found that one in
eight Kiwi mums are depressed during their pregnancy.
Chair of the Trust, Rosie Smith, says that antenatal depression could be doing serious harm to the mothers’ health and
as well as to that of her unborn child. “Mothers who suffer from anxiety and depression during their pregnancy can
struggle to cope with the most basic things, like taking care of their own health and wellbeing. This can result in a
premature birth as well as slow the foetus’s growth and affect the development of the child in later years.”
The Growing Up in New Zealand study found that women who suffer from antenatal depression are also less likely to make
use of maternity services or breastfeed. Women diagnosed with anxiety before and during pregnancy had a three times
higher risk of experiencing postnatal depression. The more stressed a woman felt during pregnancy, the higher her risk
of having significant depression symptoms.
The PMHNZT endorses the work of Growing Up in New Zealand and welcomes the call to investigate establishing a nationwide
screening programme to identify women who might be affected. “We know that antenatal anxiety and depression can be
difficult to diagnose,” explains Ms Smith. “Early indicators of depression, such as lack of appetite and low energy
levels can easily be dismissed as normal parts of a developing pregnancy. This can make it harder to identify women with
The Trust runs annual training seminars throughout New Zealand to upskill those who support families affected by mental
illness related to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood.
Participants leave the seminars with a better understanding on the impact this has on families and with strengthened
knowledge and skills to help improve perinatal mental health outcomes.
Midwives, doctors, nurses, community health and social workers as well as mental health workers attend these seminars.
In July, Growing Up in New Zealand researchers spoke at the PMHNZT seminar in Auckland and told attendees about the high
numbers of pregnant Pacifica and Maori mums experiencing distress.
Ms Smith says PMHNZT welcomes the findings of the study as well as the call for further research. “We know from our own
contacts and experience anxiety and depression during pregnancy is widespread and that support and services for women
and their families are not always readily available,” Ms Smith says. “We would love to see more counselling services and
metal health support available particularly for people in rural areas, and for those who are most at risk. We will
continue to provide training for health and social service workers about early recognition of anxiety and depression in