Since 2007, I have facilitated 35 PND (perinatal anxiety/depression) support groups. The eight-week program encompasses evidence-based psychological interventions,including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, relaxation techniques, problem solving and communication skills, which seek to improve perinatal mental health for women who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety after the birth of their baby. There is an additional session provided to partners to provide education and support to dads.
After 10 years of running these groups I have been able to observe and hear firsthand the positive outcomes for mums and their families. Many mums have reported that they have been able to implement the strategies taught and, as a result, experience a reduction in their anxiety levels, feeling less overwhelmed and irritable, and generally happier. They feel more motivated and are more likely to spend time socialising and exercising. Importantly, they report a healthier connection with their children and improved relationship with their partners.
During the first session, all mums complete a range of assessments to determine the severity of anxiety, depression and stress and they are reassessed again during the final session in Week 8. They are also asked to fill in an evaluation at the end of the course to provide us with feedback.
We have recently completed a statistical analysis of all of the data we have collected. This data was all de-identified to protect the identities of the women in the groups. The results are amazing! There were significant improvements for the women across all assessments, and after the eight-week group, mums’ depression, anxiety and stress levels improved. Below is a graph to give you an idea of the extent of those improvements.
As this exercise was not for academic purposes, we have not made any attempt to control other factors and understand that many of the mums were also engaged in individual therapy, and some mums were taking anti-depressant medication to help. Nevertheless, these results suggest that mums can expect a significant mood improvement after completing the eight-week PND group offered by the Sunshine Coast Perinatal Centre. These results are so encouraging, as we know that it is vital to be able to provide cost-effective treatment as soon as possible to reduce the impact of PND on a mum’s mental health, mother-child bond, family relationships and the community.
Why has the group been so successful?
I believe that the group is so successful due to several factors, including the opportunity to:
- spend time with other mums going through a similar experience who ‘just get it’;
- be in a non-judgmental, nurturing and accepting environment to share their experiences and feelings;
- have two hours of self-care time free of distraction, with bubs being cared for by our team of volunteer baby carers;
- learn practical and useful strategies and gain information provided by our team of experienced psychologists.
This group has been life-changing (and at times, life-saving) for mums and their families. The results from the testing suggest that for the 200 women who have completed the course there has been a significant improvement in their mental health, which has improved their quality of life, mother-baby attachments and family relationships.
Special thanks to Michaela Schuler for analysing the results for me, my co-facilitators Lyndal, Jacqui and Rachel and amazing team of baby carers Louise, Sheridan, Bec, Rachael, Michelle, Belinda and Kath and group co-ordinator Katherine. Most of all to all the brave mums who have trusted me to be part of their recovery journey (and filled out those annoying assessments).