A BOX of tissues sits on Kerin Wheeler's desk.
It does not take pride of place, nor it is particularly
prominent. But it is a steadfast presence.
Ms Wheeler, a Warrnambool City Council maternal child health
care nurse, deals with new parents and young babies every day.
And the tissues are needed for both babies with runny noses and
their anxious mothers.
"There are mothers who will sit here ... long after we've
finished talking about the baby and suddenly, for no obvious
reason, will burst into uncontrollable crying," Ms Wheeler
It certainly doesn't happen to every new mother but instances of
postnatal depression have increased to one in seven women since Ms
Wheeler started in Warrnambool more than 20 years ago.
And she and her colleagues are often the first to diagnose
"If you say to a parent: `How are you?' Most will say `I'm fine'
when in actual fact they may not be," she said.
Anxiety, poor appetite, lack of sleep, a desire to avoid others
and feeling useless as a parent are classic symptoms, according to
A lack of support from families or friends and family history
can also contribute to depression, she said.
"It can happen in any family. It's hormonal and it's no
respecter of persons at all," Ms Wheeler said.
"I think that it unfortunately still has that stigma that it's
an illness. People are often frightened to admit they have these
But Ms Wheeler and her colleagues at her family-centred practice
are helping to change that impression.
"We don't just concentrate on mothers or babies. We look at the
family as a whole."
They offer the support and guidance of psychologists, family
counsellors, physiotherapists, naturopaths and first mums'
"I've never forgotten when I first came out to maternal and
child health and I had a mother who had severe postnatal
depression," Ms Wheeler said.
"I referred her to another professional person and she was told:
`You've got a healthy baby. Go home and get over it.' I've never
"All professionals are much better trained now and learn to
recognise it much more easily."
Ms Wheeler said parents could also help themselves by attending
classes, seeking help and trusting themselves with their new
"There are all different sorts of ways of parenting. There's no
right way, there's no wrong way. It's what you feel comfortable
with and what works best for you. And enjoy your baby."