By Olivia Bunter
Pregnancy and parenthood can put significant stress on new parents, and studies show that it is not uncommon for anxiety and depression to overwhelm new parents. St John of God Raphael Services aims to help mothers and fathers through the emotional challenges of early parenthood.
Seeking out support has, in most recent years, become a more conventional practice for parents with the rise of mental health awareness.
While it may have been difficult for parents in the past to acquire affordable and accessible support, St John of God Raphael Services began offering these services to relieve the financial stress and additional strain that a newborn might place on young couples.
Beginning in 2003, it was first set up in Subiaco and still remains a free service, available expense throughout its 15 locations across Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
National Director of St John of God Raphael Services, Helen McAllister, said that in 2018, Raphael Services provided some 23,000 individual counselling sessions to 2000 new parents, 5000 more than the previous year.
The services have always been available to mums and dads, however, research has shown that one in 10 men experience perinatal anxiety and depression.
“We want to remind men that they aren’t alone,” Mrs McAllister said.
“There are free services out there that provide emotional support for new dads if they are struggling.”
While there is an established public forum for new mothers in community establishments and agencies, there still remains a stigma for young or new fathers, with little to no support for them to seek help.
According to healthy wellbeing advocate Beyond Blue, anxiety and depression can be difficult to spot in new dads because they are often reluctant to seek help.
Added pressure often accompanies new dads with the notion that they are the “provider of the family” which can result in feeling sad, numb, or withdrawn in the weeks and months after the birth of the child.
In one of the case studies examined by Raphael Services, new father Alan said adapting to having a newborn was a stressful experience where he felt frustrated and angry when trying to accept his new baby’s behaviour.
He was then referred to St John of God Raphael Services where he was given coping strategies that helped him understand how the mind processes information.
“ … these feelings and process them rationally, so they don’t affect my life so significantly.”
“I’ve since been able to identify these feelings and process them rationally, so they don’t affect my life so significantly,” Alan said.
“I now feel more confident in my role as a parent. I’ve been able to stay more relaxed and supportive around my wife when she most needs it.
“I have a closer bond with my daughter, and a more relaxed family environment at home.”
Mrs McAllister said it is important for fathers experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression to seek help.
“At Raphael Services, we believe that offering vital early-intervention counselling, therapy and support will empower and enable vulnerable parents to thrive emotionally and mentally as a family unit,” she explained.
“Raphael Services is an inclusive service that welcomes mothers and fathers from all backgrounds and is available to all members of the community, not only St John of God Health Care patients, from conception until the child is four years of age.
“All that’s needed is a referral and a mental health care plan from a GP.”
From pages 18 to 19 of Issue 20: ‘Wellbeing: Building stronger communities that flourish as a whole’ of The Record Magazine