PNDA: The deadly warning signs 55 per cent of parents don't know how to spot

Expecting mum Chelsea Pottenger ignored the increasing insomnia and never considered the prospect of postnatal depression.

·4-min read

WARNING — DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE: When young Sydney mum Chelsea Pottenger noticed she was struggling with sleep, the thought of having "severe postnatal depression and anxiety" didn't cross her mind — something a staggering 55 per cent of parents don't know how to spot.

She started getting insomnia in her final trimester of pregnancy with now seven-year-old Clara, but she "didn't put it down to anything" besides a bit of excitement and "restless leg syndrome". She never imagined it was the start of a difficult road which would soon lead her to almost ending her life.

"A few days after giving birth to Clara, after the milk came in, is when things drastically shifted," Ms Pottenger, the owner of mental health company EQMinds, told Yahoo News Australia. She said not being able to "nail" breastfeeding was difficult, given that she was "trying to do something that [her] body was meant to do".

A photo of NSW mum and creator of EQMinds Chelsea Pottenger and her daughter Clara. Another photo of Clara, Chelsea and her husband Jay.
Mum and creator of EQMinds Chelsea Pottenger has shared her experience of perinatal depression and anxiety (PNDA), something that 55 per cent of parents don't know how to spot the signs of. Source: Supplied

And while there was some relief that came with putting her child on formula, it "didn't resolve the darker stuff going on".

"It was the first time where I was having these really, bizarre, dark thoughts. Like ‘oh maybe I should jump off a balcony'. I ignored that and just pushed it down," she said.

"By week nine, which is coupled by this insomnia and anxiety every day, Clara was nine weeks old and I was crying every day."

'Serendipitous moment' saves woman's life

Being encouraged by her "doting and caring" husband Jay to go to her close friend's wedding in Scotland to take some time out, she "had a massive panic attack" when driving to the airport.

"That was the catalyst for me because I couldn’t even make it to the plane, like feeling a full sense of helplessness and just a failure on all levels," Ms Pottenger said.

"I pulled the car over, and then I started Googling on the phone ways to end my life and take myself off the planet. Which makes me sad thinking that my head got to that space.

"I drove home to write a letter to Clara and Jay because they were meant to be down at the South Coast and I wanted to write them a goodbye card to let them know the reasons, and that I love them."

A photo of the family-of-three.
Chelsea credits her family and psychiatrist for helping to save her life. Source: Supplied

However when coming home, there was this "serendipitous moment" where her husband was there and asked what was happening.

"That was the first time that I could take my mask off, pretending that everything was okay and I just told him where my head was at," she said.

This led to her husband quickly calling Ms Pottenger's cousin, a psychiatrist, who told her she had "severe postnatal depression" and needed to be taken to the hospital right then and there.

"I said, 'are you sure, will I recover? Am I ever going to get my old self back?' And she said 'I promise you you’ll make a full recovery'. And that was the hope I needed to hear," the mum said.

'You don't have to go through it alone'

After heading straight to the Mums and Bubs unit in St John of God Hospital in Sydney, Ms Pottenger realised she wasn't alone.

"You're looking around and going, 'this person's a lawyer, this person's a property developer, this person's a country mum from Orange', and you kind of get each other through it," she said.

"Because when you get admitted to the psych ward – to be honest, you’re thinking am I the craziest human being in Australia right now? Every patient is playing that game. I made some really good friends in there.

"I've done a lot of work on my mental health, my mental illness is a lifelong journey ever since having postnatal. I'm now very aware of the signs and symptoms."

In Australia, perinatal depression and anxiety impacts around 100,000 parents each year which equates to one in five mothers and one in 10 fathers, according to Gidget Foundation Australia. Suicide is also one of the leading causes of death among expectant and new mothers.

Ms Pottenger is now an ambassador for the foundation and recommends it to parents in every keynote event she does. "You don’t have to go through this alone," she said.

"When we catch it early the quicker people can recover, rather than getting it too late and all of the sudden you’re in hospital admission because you’re not safe in public because you’re going to harm yourself or the baby."

If this story brought up distress, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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