Helping new mums cope with mental illness

Karen is a positive and proud mum. She sits in her lounge, photos of her happy, bright eight-year-old son lining the wall, and recalls how a special playgroup helped her get to the positive place she's in today.

At 40, Karen became a mum for the first time. But what is normally a happy time in a woman's life was a living hell for Karen.

The pregnancy was unplanned and the baby's father had left her. She was still taking medication for severe anxiety and depression, not realising she was pregnant.

When her son was born, specialists told Karen it was likely he would suffer learning disabilities because of her medication.

Karen came home to an empty house while her son spent weeks in hospital as doctors gradually eliminated the drugs from his body.

"I never expected to be a mum and I never expected to get ill," Karen says.

Karen was finally united with her son, but regularly returned to the hospital. Motherhood was a lonely, anxious time.

She started emerging from the nightmare when an early childhood nurse referred her to the POPPY Playgroup when her son was nine weeks old.

Once a week, a bus would take Karen and her son to the group, which is for parents and children aged up to five where the parent has a diagnosed mental illness.

"Living with a mental illness, POPPY has opened the door for me to step out," Karen says. "The other mums are really nice and I developed some great friendships. It was just lovely to be around other people who have this in common.

"It was great to have the time out from the terrible bombardment of depressive thoughts.

"When you're not well, fun doesn't come into it. You're so caught up in your head stuff you forget about things like simply walking the pram. If you're feeling better, you parent better."

Karen says POPPY not only turned her life around but equipped her to help her son grow to be a happy, smart year 2 student.

"The benefits are so unbelievable, that's why I kept going back," she says.

"He's bright, smart, he's a great kid and a lot of it comes from the education we got from the group.

"There were lots of strategies on how to keep kids amused and how to participate with your children.

"It was an activity both of us really enjoyed. And it gave me the confidence to make friends with other mums - I had lost all my workmates."

She has explained her illness to her son, so he understands why his mum might one day be overzealously cleaning skirting boards and then other days dazed and in despair.

"He knows I get sad and it's got nothing to do with him. He's said that he's angry at the illness for doing this to me," she says.


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