In her first nine months of life, Winry King continuously vomited, screamed for hours and slept just three hours a day.
“I lived in puke,” her mother Kerri Krissansen says.
Krissansen’s partner, Dylan King, was working 60 hours a week as a digger operator and did as much as he could to relieve Krissansen when he was home, but they were both soon exhausted.
There were nights when Winry woke up to 10 times.
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Five months in, Krissansen realised she “wasn’t coping whatsoever”.
“I was just losing it, I felt so angry at the world and tired all the time.”
Krissansen told her GP, who diagnosed her with moderate to severe postnatal depression.
He referred her to the local mothers and babies mental health service, but the request was declined.
“My case wasn’t serious enough. I wasn’t suicidal, I just felt like I was going to run away.”
He sent two more referrals to the service and a referral for counselling. All were declined.
Someone from the crisis resolution team visited Krissansen to make sure she and her baby were safe. They rang her several times after to check on her.
Three-and-a-half months later, Krissansen was eventually accepted for brief intervention counselling – five free hour-long sessions.
“My counsellor was really brilliant. I learned coping techniques I wasn’t aware of. I could have done with it a lot earlier,” she said.
Winry is now 18 months and brings a proud smile to her parents’ face as she practises her first words.
She rarely vomits or screams and sleeps a bit better.
“Everything started to improve slowly as she gets older but I still don’t feel 100 per cent,” Krissansen said, tearing up.
“Ongoing counselling would be helpful but we can’t afford it.”
Maternal Care Action Group spokeswoman Kristina Paterson said Krissansen’s struggles were widespread.
The organisation issued a petition requesting funding for new mothers to receive help for perinatal anxiety and depression (PNAD), which would be delivered to Parliament on May 14.
Many mothers were diagnosed late or not at all, and only those suffering the most severe conditions got access to specialist mental health services, she said.
Many were left to pay privately for therapy, which cost up to $100 a session.
“Everyday families can’t afford that.”
Suicide is the leading indirect cause of maternal death in New Zealand. It is seven times more common here than in the UK. From 2006 to 2013, 22 mothers committed suicide, according to the latest review of infant and maternal mortality.
The review found many of those 22 women had risk factors that were not recognised.
Perinatal psychiatrist and University of Otago senior researcher Mark Huthwaite said about one in five women suffered PNAD but “only the tip of the iceberg” accessed appropriate treatment.
Primary care was not enough for women suffering moderate PNAD and more funding was required nationwide, he said.
Canterbury District Health Board mothers and babies clinical head Liz MacDonald said the service, which had five inpatient beds, was seeing more mothers requiring “very intensive levels of support and care” since Canterbury earthquakes.
It received more than 300 referrals a year and the average waiting time for an outpatient appointment was four to six weeks.
New Zealand College of Midwives chief executive Karen Guilliland said midwives were well trained in maternal mental health but struggled to find appropriate services to refer women to, which was “distressing for all concerned”.
Ministry of Health director of mental health John Crawshaw said PNAD was “effectively managed in primary care” in most cases.
All district health boards (DHBs) provided specialist maternal mental health care and Auckland and Canterbury DHBs offered mothers and babies units.
If you require urgent or crisis mental health care, freephone 0800 920 092, (24 hours, 7 days a week)
The petition can be found at: https://our.actionstation.org.nz/p/fundpnd
Where to find help in Canterbury:
PND Canterbury runs support groups, playgroup and home visits for mothers suffering PNAD.
Mothers supporting Mothers in North Canterbury
Plunket Postnatal Adjustment Programme
List of nationwide support services
Maori Health Providers