ACU PhD candidate Pamela Pilkington has won a junior researcher award for her work that helps partners support one another during pregnancy and following childbirth to reduce the chance of developing depression and anxiety.
The Australasian Marce Society for Perinatal Mental Health awarded Pamela the Junior Researcher Award based on a paper she presented at its conference.
Pamela has published a booklet Supporting your partner when you have a baby: Tips to stay mentally healthy during the transition to parenthood, which is now circulating in the public arena. Click here to read it.
Her hope is that this research will have a “real-world” impact and that the booklet reaches as many new parents as possible.
“There is a lot of information out there on pregnancy and childbirth, but often it’s not supported by evidence,” she said.
“Parents can be confident that this booklet is supported by research, perinatal mental health professionals, and parents with lived experience of perinatal depression and anxiety.
“Preventing perinatal depression and anxiety has so many fantastic flow-on effects, as it enhances the parent’s capacity to parent warmly, be involved, and bond with their infant.
“I’m also really proud of this research being father inclusive and same-sex partner inclusive. “
Pamela became passionate about the prevention of mood problems during pregnancy and following childbirth (also known as the perinatal period) when someone close to her experienced perinatal depression.
She saw the impact that perinatal depression can have on the whole family firsthand.
“Even though there are effective treatments available, only one in two parents seek professional help.
“I began to reflect on what we can do to help prevent perinatal depression and anxiety from happening in the first place. My PhD research evolved from there.”
Numerous studies show that being satisfied with your relationship and feeling supported by your partner reduces the chance that you will experience depression or anxiety during the transition to parenthood.
But even though researchers know this from an academic perspective, how do we put this into action in the “real world”? What does being a supportive partner look like? How can partners improve their relationship satisfaction?
“We recognized a need to translate the research evidence into practical advice that parents can put into action to reduce their vulnerability to depression and anxiety.
“The booklet we have developed aims to meet this need – it provides tips for partners on how they can support one another and covers everything from how to manage conflict, to understanding how your sexual relationship may change.
Pamela developed this booklet using a technique called the Delphi method.
What this means is her team identified a wide range of potential ways partners can support one another during the perinatal period, and then asked more than 50 perinatal mental health experts to rate how important they thought they were to preventing perinatal depression and anxiety.
The experts included researchers, psychiatrists, and psychologists from all over the other world, as well as parents with lived experience of perinatal depression and anxiety.
The strategies that were endorsed by at least 80 per cent of the professionals and parents as important in preventing perinatal depression and anxiety were included in the booklet.
Pamela is in the final two months of her Masters of Clinical Psychology/PhD and is looking forward to submitting her thesis.
“I am currently completing a placement at the Austin hospital working with parents experiencing perinatal mental health problems, and I’m also working with the Healthy Mothers Healthy Families group at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
“My dream is to continue to work across both clinical and research settings in perinatal mental health. The booklet is also currently being translated into a website, so I’m looking forward to launching that in the New Year.
Pamela said she has enjoyed completing her PhD under the supervision of Dr Tom Whelan and Dr Lisa Milne, who have been “incredibly supportive and collaborative”.
“They have really afforded me a lot of autonomy which I have found really empowering and satisfying. I’m really proud of the work we have done together,” she said.
“I have also really enjoyed being part of the Post Graduate Association, who organize Shut Up and Write events which really help with the writing process.”