Research projects

What Australians know about perinatal depression and anxiety – Beyond Blue Perinatal Monitor

Project title

Perinatal depression and anxiety monitor

Institution

Wallis Consulting

Funding

This project was funded by Beyond Blue

Project completion year

2009

Project description

In late 2009, Beyond Blue conducted a national survey to investigate how the Australian community perceived perinatal (ante and postnatal) depression and anxiety conditions. The purpose of the research was twofold. Firstly, it provided important insights and information which informed campaign messages across sections of the community and health professionals. Secondly, the survey produced important baseline data against which progress of the National Perinatal Depression Initiative (NPDI) could be monitored over time.

Methodology

A telephone survey was conducted with 1,201 randomly-selected participants aged 18 and over across Australia. The sample was controlled to ensure it was representative of the population in terms of age, gender and location across metropolitan and regional areas. The anonymous, 20-minute telephone survey was conducted between October and December 2009. The survey was designed to assess awareness, knowledge and understanding of health and mental health problems during pregnancy and in the first year following the birth of a baby. Understanding of the prevalence, symptoms and help-seeking behaviour for perinatal depression and anxiety was explored, together with attitudes (stigma).

Key findings

A selection of the key findings is outlined below; full findings are in the final report.

Awareness of mental health issues during pregnancy

  • When asked to identify major health problems which may be experienced during pregnancy, over a quarter of the sample (27 per cent), was unable to identify any specific problems.
  • Of those who were able to identify health problems during pregnancy, most  people were likely to identify physical health problems.
  • Overall, spontaneous recognition of any mental health problems in this context is extremely low, with only a small proportion of people identifying anxiety (5 per cent), depression (4 per cent), postnatal depression (2 per cent), and mental health more broadly (2 per cent).

Awareness of mental health issues in the first year after the baby is born

  • When considering the period following birth and the first year after having a baby, spontaneous awareness of mental health problems is higher when compared to the antenatal period.

Awareness and understanding of the term ‘perinatal depression’

  • Spontaneous identification of perinatal depression was negligible. When asked, 59 per cent of respondents indicated that they had “not heard of the term perinatal depression”. Interestingly, of those who had heard of the term, when asked what it meant, 35 per cent of this subsample did not know, and only 4 per cent associated it with depression around the time of birth.
  • There was limited knowledge about the prevalence of depression in the ante- and postnatal periods.

Causes of postnatal depression

  • When respondents were asked why they thought women experienced postnatal depression, the most commonly identified reason was a hormonal imbalance (31 per cent).
  • A similar proportion attributed postnatal depression to being unprepared or uninformed about parenthood.

Attitudes towards perinatal depression

  • Over half the same perceived it to be normal for women to feel depressed during pregnancy. This misconception was more likely to be held among respondents under age 55, those without health or mental health training and those who were not parents.
  • In the postnatal context, almost a quarter of respondents considered postnatal depression to be a normal part of having a baby.
  • Almost a fifth of respondents perceived that knowing how to look after a baby comes naturally to women.

When looking at the reasons why women experience postnatal depression, a significant proportion of respondents was likely to attribute this to an inability to cope and/or having unrealistic expectations. These perceptions were more likely to be held among older people (over 55), who were also more likely to believe that postnatal depression didn’t exist in previous generations. 

Download the report.

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