Objective: To establish a benchmark of awareness, knowledge and attitudes in Australia in relation to depression and its treatment in the perinatal period, and to identify demographic factors associated with perinatal mental health literacy.
Method: A cross-sectional telephone survey (n = 1201) of a randomly selected sample of adults in each State and Territory of Australia, conducted in late 2009.
Results: Depression was the most frequently cited general health problem for women after childbirth (43.6% of spontaneous responses), in contrast to previous findings of low awareness of depression generally. A total of 94% of adults believed that postnatal depression requires specialized treatment. Older Australians (55 + years) identified postnatal depression less readily than younger Australians. Although well recognized as a specific mental health issue, as a general health issue antenatal depression had low recognition and was viewed by 52% of respondents as 'normal'. Community beliefs about perinatal rates of depression appeared realistic. Men and women differed in their knowledge and beliefs about the symptoms and causes of postnatal depression. Difficulty in mother-infant bonding was seen as a common sign of postnatal depression, particularly by women. Most commonly, postnatal depression was perceived as having a biological rather than psychosocial etiology (30% of men, 41% of women). Recognition of anxiety in the postnatal period was relatively low, although higher among those with mental health training. Over 80% of Australians believed that all new mothers should be routinely assessed for depression.
Conclusions: Awareness of postnatal depression appeared to be at a high level in the community, but both anxiety and antenatal depression were comparatively under-recognized, suggesting there is considerable scope for awareness-raising. Established risk factors for postnatal depression were not coherently recognized. Ongoing tracking of perinatal mental health literacy in Australia is likely to be valuable in assessing the impact of future public awareness efforts.