When Lauren Fisher was pregnant, she felt like she was "talked about" instead of talked to.
She and her partner Alex, went through IVF to have their child, and Ms Fisher had a "difficult pregnancy and a difficult birth" and "negative experiences" in the hospital system.
"When my baby was really young, she couldn't sleep, and I went in desperate for help and sort of got told that she wasn't sleeping because of what I was doing, so it was my fault," she says.
"And I internalised a lot of that," she says.
The challenges of new parenthood, along with the changes in hormones and other pressures, "hit like a tonne of bricks" around the six-month postnatal mark after having both of her children — especially the second time, Ms Fisher says.
It wasn't that she didn't adore her children, or love being a parent, or know that it could be difficult, Ms Fisher says.
She didn't want to hurt herself or her child but knew she needed help, so after talking with her GP and with support from her partner, she went to Belmont Private Hospital's Brisbane Centre for Postnatal Disorders for three weeks.
Now Ms Fisher wants to empower other new parents to seek help.
"When you feel like that, it's really easy to feel like there's something wrong with you, and you feel that makes you feel really alone, and you're just not alone," she says.
"It's actually so, so brave to say, I'm not OK, and I need some support.
Increasing demand for perinatal support
Ms Fisher is not alone — with one in five new mums and one in 10 new dads affected by perinatal depression and anxiety, impacting about 100,000 Australian families annually.
The peak perinatal mental health organisation, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA), says demand continues to exceed pre-pandemic levels despite expectations that it would ease after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
More than 30,000 Australians completed PANDA's online mental health checklist in the past 12 months, slightly more than the year prior.
Of the new mothers who responded to the checklist, four in five said they felt disconnected from their friends and family, while 40 per cent felt disconnected from their baby.
For new fathers, 80 per cent of respondents said they felt disconnected from their friends and family, and almost half felt disconnected from their baby.
PANDA chief executive Julie Borninkhof says parents are experiencing a range of challenges, including the cost of living and global events, at a time when they are vulnerable and often "quietly trying to manage anxiety, depression or other perinatal mental health issues".
"Of the callers to PANDA's Helpline, 63 per cent had not even spoken to their partner about how they felt, while 83 per cent had not consulted a doctor or health professional," she says.
'There's a really big gap' counsellor says
Brisbane clinical social worker at Making Mamma Village Karen O'Mara says there is a gap in services provided to couples while pregnant and after a baby is born.
"There's a really big gap in helping mums understand what they will need emotionally and psychologically when they come home after having a baby," she says.
"The biggest challenge that I find with working with families is that we no longer have our village of support that we used to have decades ago."
Ms O'Mara also says parents who have had miscarriages, a stillborn child, or lost their baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, need further support when they leave the hospital system, so she recommends they seek professional support.
"What often happens too is they may have unresolved grief and loss from the loss, and they then get pregnant again, and they have significant anxiety about the subsequent pregnancy," she says.
Brisbane mother hopes her experience will help others
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brisbane mother Shannon Batson was diagnosed with postnatal depression when her second child was 12 weeks old, and she now believes she had it after her first child was born.
"I've had mental health concerns all my adult life, so it was difficult for me to understand why I was being diagnosed with perinatal disorder when it was something that I felt I had always had on and off," she says.
"One of the challenges I faced in accepting my diagnosis was the pre-conceived idea that postnatal depression meant you didn't love your baby because I loved my baby and felt connected to her from the get-go," she said.
"I thought everyone felt that way, and everyone had those struggles."
So she sought help and went to Belmont Private Hospital and, during that time, attended group therapy and therapy with a psychiatrist, among other parenting courses.
After leaving the hospital, she has continued group therapy and is "doing very well".
"It's not something that you would wish on anybody … but if I can help, particularly another mother or just anybody who is having struggles, it makes my experience worth it," she says.
"Seeking professional help is vital, and I know that looks different for everyone."
As Perinatal Mental Health Week launches this week, more than 45 Australian perinatal organisations have come together to launch a federal government-backed online tool, the Perinatal Mental Health Support Finder, to provide better access to support.
Plan to help new parents
A Queensland Health spokesperson says the mental health and well-being of expectant and new parents and their infants is a priority.
Last month, the state government launched "a landmark five-year plan" for a state-funded mental health, alcohol and other drug services called Better Care Together.
As part of the plan, Queensland Health has committed to investing in initiatives such as increasing the number of mother and baby beds for state-wide specialist inpatient treatment for severe perinatal mental health disorders.
The plan also includes investment in more perinatal mental health clinicians, additional consultation services, and increasing regional and remote access to its e-Perinatal and Infant Mental Health telepsychiatry service.