We're excited to have Julie, a Clinical Psychologist and CEO of from Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA), join us for a guest interview. With her extensive experience in helping families navigate the challenging moments that come with parenthood, Julie offers valuable insights and strategies for new parents to find their footing during those tough times. Tune in as she shares her expertise, providing guidance and reassurance for those embarking on this transformative journey into parenthood.
Julie Borninkhof - Clinical Psychologist and CEO of PANDA
Welcome Julie, thank you for joining us today!
Tell us all about yourself and the amazing work that PANDA do to support our community?
So I am from PANDA, I am lucky enough to be the CEO of PANDA and we are an amazing organisation that provides mental health support to all new and expecting Mums. So people who are pregnant and people who are within the first twelve months of their parenting journey, to people across the country. We deliver our amazing helpline, which is a freely accessible phone support service between the hours of 9:00AM til 19:30PM, Monday to Saturday (Eastern Standard Time) and we also deliver an amazing array of resources via our website, so that communities can digest and access that information at any time of the night or day and we know that lots of Mums and Dads are up in the night feeding and wanting to access information. We also do a really big body of work in educating health professionals and community around awareness raising and how to assess, treat, support and refer people who have perinatal mental vulnerability.
That's amazing! We didn't realise that the phone line was open so late every day?
Well we know that to support Dads especially, when we have working parents and more broadly - family units, that having that after hours support is really important. As Mums now, we work really late up through the pregnancy period and need to be able to access support in the after hours. We'd love to be 24/7 if we had our magic wand, but we're not there yet.
Soon, hopefully soon!
Is there one question that new parents always seem to ask your team on the national helpline?
I think the one question, even if it's not framed as a question to us, but the one thing that people are ultimately wanting to know when they reach out to the helpline is whether or not their experience is normal. We know as a culture that so many people feel like failures as parents because their mental health is not wherever is needs to be or they want it to be during this period. Unfortunately we set parents up to think that it's all roses and easy and they immediately feel like failures and that something is really wrong with them when they do have a struggle or a hard time. Ultimately the biggest question is always around 'is this normal', or 'am I this terrible anomaly that is the only person in the world that is not doing parenting well'?
The fact you PANDA set up for this cause is a sign that it is totally normal and that there is help out there.
Completely and when we look at the research and the data, we know that 1 in 5 Mums and 1 in 10 Dads will struggle with diagnosable mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But there are hundreds of thousands of people that sit on either end of the spectrum around that who may just have emerging mental vulnerability that is interrupting them being the parent that they want to be or may have very extreme experiences of mental health conditions. That 1 in 5 Mums, 1 in 10 Dads, is even more significant when we think about those that aren't captured in those statistics.
What are some of the signs that a loved one might be struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression? What should we look out for?
Really good question. We know that there are standard symptoms that people experience, so for people who may have anxiety for the first time in their life and acknowledging that a lot of people who have had anxiety earlier in their life may still be experiencing it during this period at a more heightened rate. Anxiety for many people is racing thoughts, physical symptoms like an upset stomach or needing to wee a lot, may have diarrhoea, that kind of crawling feeling of needing to get through whatever it is that they have been triggered by, inability to sleep, not eating properly. I often explain it to people who have never had anxiety, having it is often like being wound up like a rubber band, like when you get a pen and wind a rubber band really tight and it feels like it's going to snap. Anxiety can feel like that because it's physiologically something that is very tight in your body. Whereas depression is much more that feeling of wanting to drop out, wrap yourself up in a doona, block the world out, really that need to protect yourself. We know that for people who are feeling depressed, again they may experience feelings of not being able to eat or sleep when they want to, not being able to self-care, not feeling up to having a conversation, social withdrawal.
If someone is struggling, what advice do you have for them?
Look, I think that first of all, don't feel that you have to do it alone and don't feel like you have to be able to put into words exactly the experience is for yourself. Helplines like ours or many other therapeutic helplines and supports that are out there are able to help you find the words for what it is. We often get people who calling the helpline that say "I just wish I'd reached out earlier, but it wasn't the right time" or "I didn't know how to put into words what it was I was experiencing". That piece about knowing how to explain it, of course, if you haven't had this experience before it is going to feel really weird and foreign and that's okay. The other piece is looking for the right time, we know for mums who have got new bubs, putting their babies first constantly, there is never going to feel like a right time to open up this conversation and that just has to be okay. What is most important, the longer you leave it, the longer you feel like you're not being the parent you want to be and we don't want that for people.
Also do you find that people, when they reach out and say "I wish I reached out sooner", feel like maybe their anxiety or depression wasn't severe enough to make that call?
Completely, we know that as women especially, not to say men don't experience this, but we hear it a lot from women - that they often feel that somebody would be worse off than them and that they would be taking their place if they were to reach out for support. Ultimately everyone has the right to care, I say this knowing that PANDA can't often deal with the demand of callers that are reaching out for support, every single individuals needs are valid. Every single individual deserves the right to be the parent they want to be and if the system isn't taking in and attempting to support as many people as possible, we will never know the true impact or cost of perinatal mental health issues for this country.
Would you have any self-care tips that would help new parents that are thinking about calling but might want to try some things first?
We have some amazing tips on our website for anyone who wants to reach out and have a look there, and that is panda.org.au. First self-care tip is look around, there are lots of pieces there. Secondly just breathe. Quite often when we get anxious and we're wound up like that rubber band, we're using short breath cycles and we're not grounding ourselves in the moment. Often just taking that breath to disrupt the thought pattern and tune into what it is we're experiencing, even if that's really hard to do and scary, is a really good way of kind of centring yourself back into the moment. We know that being a new parent brings with it all these additional stimulus, whether it's the baby crying or new sounds and stimuli that is kind of overwhelming us, you just need to find some quite in amongst that and focus in on what it is that you're experience - do that mental pat down. Also remember all of the things that you used to do prior to having a bub, for some people that's three children ago, but often those roots of connecting with music or sitting in the sun in the garden or reaching out to a friend or a family member, those things still hold true. They're part of our DNA in terms of self-soothing, so trying to connect up with those things that we know are good for us, because we've done them before, or that are good for other people that you're going to give a go and may never have tried before.
If any of our Chekoh Mama's and Papa's wanted to reach out, what is the best way to reach out to PANDA?
So we have a few things that are available to people. If you go to panda.org.au you can look out for the resources and stories of other people who have experienced similar journeys. There is also the mental health checklist which is on our website, you can go to panda.org.au and type in checklist into the search function and there is a 30 question checklist for expecting mums, new mums, expecting dads, new dads and carers or non-birth parents, and people can do that checklist and it gives you a bit of a read on how you're going and whether or not you would benefit from reaching out to a service like PANDA or engaging with a health professional. We also have our helpline so people can ring 1300 726 306 and leave a message on a helpline or hang on and we will be with you when we can. Reach out, we deliver free targeted counselling via people with both lived experience, so we have peer providers on our helpline and we have clinical staff as well.
Check out the PANDA checklists here.
Reach out to the PANDA team here.
It's amazing how inclusive PANDA is.
Was there anything you would like to add before we wrap up?
Look, I think ultimately just to understand that you're not alone. This experience really is so very normal for people and for those that are caring for people, if you see something and you think that somebody is struggling you can't hurt them by asking the question. You don't need to know how to fix them when you ask the question. Just know that having someone see that the individual is struggling is often enough for them to engage with supports. That is a really beautiful thing because so many times, we have people ring the helpline that say "It was when my best friend said 'hey it looks like you're having a rough time' that it became real. Somebody else saw that, it wasn't just in my own head." I think wrapping around people in the same way as RUOK? Day and all of those other national campaigns call us to enquire about people's health and wellbeing - this is the exact same thing.
Sometimes you do put up that front and all it takes is for someone to ask "are you okay?" and it all comes tumbling down.
Yeah, we also know that sometimes as friends we don't ask that question because we're scared when the tumbling down happens. Again enter the conversation knowing that you don't have to fix it for the individual, and quite often you won't, you'll just be the first step in the cog of getting them back to where they want to be or getting the support they've never had in their life and know that there are supports like PANDA out there to help support people.
Thank you so much Julie for joining us today and telling us all about the amazing work that you and PANDA do!
Thanks so much for having the conversation and for getting the message out there!
If you feel like you or someone close to you would benefit from reaching out to PANDA, click here to head to their website: panda.org.au
Call the national helpline on 1300 726 306
Monday - Saturday (9:00AM til 19:30PM AEST)
Please note that PANDA is not a crisis service and if you
need immediate support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24/7)
Or follow along on their Instagram: @pandanational