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Shining a light on PANDA Week


Story by Holly McKay

When it comes to starting a family, the resounding message from Cabrini experts is that the mental wellbeing of parents is paramount.

To mark the start of PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) Week, November 10-16, Cabrini’s leading perinatal psychiatrist Dr Adaobi Udechuku, and clinical psychologist Meaghan Jones, have opened up about the important roles they play at Cabrini’s Mother and Baby Centre.

PANDA Week is a way to raise awareness and encourage people to talk about perinatal anxiety and depression, the signs and symptoms and where to seek help if they’re struggling.
At Cabrini, we want expecting and new parents and their families to feel they can be open and honest about how they’re feeling.

Dr Udechuku said PANDA Week was a timely reminder for everyone that emotional health was “just as important as physical health”. A perinatal psychiatrist with more than 20 years’ experience, Dr Udechuku and her colleague Dr Lucinda Smith set up GLOW Clinic in 2016 and the structure was integrated into Cabrini’s Mother and Baby Centre in May this year. She said the aim of GLOW Clinic was a home-like space where people could feel comfortable sharing their parenting journey.

Cabrini’s GLOW Clinic to support maternal mental health

“We wanted to provide something comprehensive in the one space – wellness, physical, emotional and social health,” Dr Udechuku said. “One in 20 dads suffer during their partner’s pregnancy and one in 10 postnatally can suffer. Sometimes it’s just the adjustment of becoming a father. We also know if a woman is struggling her partner’s mental health is more likely to be impacted.”

Dr Udechuku said at GLOW they see couples from preconception and families up until the children were in preschool. She said being part of Cabrini was “a really nice synergy”.

“Cabrini has more than 1800 deliveries a year, it’s great to be able to provide this service to such a large maternity hospital in Melbourne and actually provide something that’s unique. Emotional health doesn’t care about your post code or what your income is, it’s across the board – women struggle no matter what their socioeconomic group is.”

GLOW clinical psychologist Ms Jones said offering perinatal and antenatal mental health services at Cabrini meant new mothers and fathers were able to access those services while also visiting their obstetrician or midwife.

“We know it’s incredibly hard for women when they’ve first had their babies to go to new places, to attend appointments,” Ms Jones said. “So to come to a place that they already know, is an easier step for them.
There’s a number of women who will see their obstetrician and then come and see me so they can make their appointments all on the same day and in the same building so it really simplifies things.”

She said as a mother of two, she could relate to the struggle new parents often felt. “I made the decision not to work in perinatal until I’d had my own family, because it’s incredibly challenging. But my experience of being a mum and my experience of meeting other first time mums confirmed for me that’s what I really wanted to do,” she said.

Ms Jones also said PANDA Week was a way to make people more aware of what they might notice in themselves. She said the most common sentence she heard was people saying ‘I’m just not myself’.

“I think in the society we live in at the moment families and women are often kind of raising children in isolation and so a lot of people don’t actually know what they’re experiencing and a lot of people don’t actually know the statistics on antenatal and postnatal depression and I think anxiety gets lost too,” Ms Jones said.

She said early intervention was key.

“That’s the most important thing when people come through the door – it’s getting a sense of what’s their journey and what have their experiences been and how can I help them in terms of where they’re at.”

“Women and partners, your emotional health is as important as your physical health – if not more so. Getting to know what the very early signs you might be struggling are, and where to go if you have any questions, is important,” Dr Udechuku added.

For more information on the Cabrini Mother and Baby Centre and GLOW Clinic, visit our Maternity Services page.