Stay at home parenting and good perinatal mental health

If you seek parenting advice from social media you would be forgiven for thinking that motherhood brings unbridled joy. Generally speaking, baby cuteness abounds, SAHMs spend their days happily posting their baby’s baths, meals, loving looks and their sleep routines.

While sharing the long and lonely days of early parenting can be an important act, it can also be difficult to share your doubts, fears and uncertainties when there is so much positivity about. Social media, especially for those experiencing perinatal depression or anxiety, which affects one in five Australian mothers, can make new parents feel inadequate and alone, and they do not necessarily find the connection they seek.

For migrant and refugee women embarking on the brave new world of parenting, the isolation can be even more acute. Research shows that migrant and refugee women tend to experience low levels of social and family support, partly due to restrictive family migration policies which make it difficult for new parents to gather their usual support systems around them. If you add precarious immigration status which not only has material impacts, but also makes it harder to psychologically settle and feel a sense of belonging, it is perhaps no surprise that migrant and refugee women in Australia experience relatively higher rates of depression and anxiety during the perinatal period.

One would expect that the higher rates of perinatal mental health conditions among migrant women would mean that culturally and linguistically responsive services that are tailored for their needs would be the order of the day. Sadly, this is not the case. Our mental health service system remains inadequate and inaccessible. For women on visas who are not eligible for Medicare, it is also costly. As a result of these combined barriers, migrant and refugee women who need support often have very few pathways to address their mental health concerns at an early point.

Migrant and refugee women make up more than one third of women who give birth in Australia. We really need to change the mental health system to meet the needs of migrant and refugee women who are pregnant and early parenting. This means developing community-led perinatal mental health services that are gender equitable, accessible, and culturally and linguistically responsive. In addition, we must ensure that mental health prevention, early intervention, support and treatment services, as well as interpreting services, are available to all free of charge, regardless of migration status. Your visa should not determine your right to health.

Ultimately, the long-term solution is prevention; addressing the drivers of poor mental health, which for migrant and refugee women, starts with the gendered and racialised discrimination that is embedded within our social, economic, political, health and welfare systems. Building equitable and inclusive systems will generate the real connection that new parents need.

First published in edition #111 of The Wrap on 29 July 2022.