Mother holding baby in a park

Content notice: suicide, anxiety and depression

What is perinatal anxiety and depression?

Parenthood is a journey that can involve many ups and downs.

Becoming a parent is a significant change, one that alters how someone interacts with, and views, the world. People may also feel that becoming a parent isn’t what they expected and therefore find it difficult to adapt to these newfound pressures and responsibilities. This, plus a combination of many other factors, may lead to perinatal anxiety and depression.

Perinatal anxiety and depression can occur any time from when someone first finds out they are pregnant, up until one year after giving birth. Symptoms can range from mild to moderate or severe and can occur at random at any time during the perinatal period.

Who can get perinatal anxiety and depression?

Anyone who is in their perinatal period can experience anxiety and depression. The PANDA National Helpline answers approximately 40,000 calls from new parents and expecting parents per year in Australia, highlighting the need for greater support during the perinatal period.

The severity and type of symptoms experienced can vary greatly. There are a number of factors that impact the severity of symptoms, including a person’s physical and mental health prior to the perinatal period.

It is important to be aware of how you, or someone you care about, is coping during this ever-changing and emotional period of life. Thoughts of suicide are common during the perinatal period, with suicide being one of the leading causes of maternal death at this time. This further indicates the need for additional research and action.

Non-birthing parents, such as fathers and partners, can also experience an increased risk of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts during the perinatal period.

What are the symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression?

People experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression may experience several different feelings over a period of time. These feelings may reoccur, evolve and change. This can cause distress for the person experiencing them and those in their support network.

Both perinatal anxiety and depression can cause changes in mood, behaviour and relationships. The symptoms of perinatal anxiety differ from those of perinatal depression, but symptoms from both conditions may be present at any given time.

Some of the most common perinatal anxiety symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent worrying, nervousness, stress and/or panic
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Irrational or excessive fears
  • Intrusive and/or compulsive thoughts
  • Panic attacks including feeling dizzy and/or faint
  • Poor sleep, unrelated to the baby waking during the night
  • Avoidance and withdrawal from people and places
  • Thoughts of suicide

Additionally, someone may also experience some of the common symptoms of perinatal depression, including but not limited to:

  • Feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, loneliness and/or irritability
  • Intense mood swings
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Lack of interest, motivation and/or energy
  • Avoidance and withdrawal from people and places
  • Risk-taking behaviour

There are many other perinatal anxiety and depression symptoms that someone can experience. If you are concerned about yourself or your loved one, the PANDA National Helpline is available Monday to Saturday and Lifeline is available 24/7.

What perinatal anxiety and depression research is taking place at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute?

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is a part of several critical studies designed to better understand perinatal suicidality and women’s health after childbirth.

The Making Sense of the Unseen study has been created to understand the evolution of suicidality during pregnancy and in the first year after a child’s birth. The aim of the study is to better understand women's experiences of suicidality at this time in their lives and therefore improve health professionals' responses. This study is being conducted in partnership with James Cook University and PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia).

Additionally, we are exploring the experiences of 1,500 women and their first-born children up until the age of 18 through the Mothers’ and Young People’s Study, which began in Melbourne in 2003.

Early findings from this study showed that taking regular time out from the full-time responsibility of caring for a new baby lowers the risk of developing depression. Many new mothers think they should be able to care for their newborn baby on their own, however, our research shows that it is important for the demands of caring for a new baby to be shared with partners and other family members.

Murdoch Children’s and Stronger Futures Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) Dr Laura Biggs and Professor Stephanie Brown are at the forefront of these studies, paving the way for improved parental health and therefore helping to give all children the opportunity to live healthy and fulfilled lives. Find out more about our CRE plus Dr Biggs' and Professor Brown's vital research.

To access support

PANDA National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline
Talk: 1300 726 306 Monday-Friday 9.00am-7.30pm AEST/AEDT

Lifeline – available 24/7     
Talk: 13 11 14     

Suicide Call Back Service – available 24/7
Talk: 1300 659 467  
Chat or video chat: