Young Baby Holding Parents Hand

Women and Newborn Health Service

Health A – Z


Emotional Health for Parents

Emotional Health Across Cultures

The birth of a child is important in all cultures. Different cultures have different ways of preparing for and welcoming a new baby into the community.

It was once thought that emotional problems like postnatal depression did not occur in every culture. However, many research studies have since shown this is not true.

In some languages, there is no word for “depression” or “anxiety.” The closest word may be “sick” or “crazy”.

It is not surprising, then, that some people don’t seek help to deal with how they feel. For them, there is the possibility others in their community will see them as “crazy” and this can affect both them and their family.

Also, in some cultures, feelings of stress or depression are spoken of only in terms of physical symptoms (like headaches, stomach aches, or feeling tired), not as emotional or mental issues. For these reasons, it can be hard to get the right treatment needed for recovery.

Aboriginal families

Migrant and refugee families

Aboriginal families

By Aboriginal tradition, babies were seen as “born of place.” The time when the mother first felt the baby move inside her, as well as the environment she was in, was very important.

A plant, animal or part of the landscape was thought to be the father and this was related to the spiritual conception of the child.

Traditional birthing places still exist today, but many Aboriginal women now give birth in hospital.
For some Aboriginal women, the first time they go to hospital is when they have their baby. This can add to the distress women may already feel at this time. They may feel very isolated from the social, cultural and spiritual support of family and friends.

It can also be very hard if they have to travel to another city to give birth.

Other factors which may affect the emotions of Aboriginal parents include historical events (e.g., the stolen generation) and related issues of grief and loss.

“I became very withdrawn. I cried a lot… [but I didn’t let] what was happening in my life be known to anyone. I thought to myself ‘…I am a powerful black woman because I keep all my business in my house.’” – Nyoongar woman

Some useful pamphlets and DVDs for Aboriginal families are listed here.

Migrant and refugee families

People who have moved to Australia from another country often don’t have many friends or family members around to support and help them.

It can be hard to adjust to a new health system, especially while still learning English (or not speaking English at all).

Many recent immigrants to Australia also feel upset and distressed if they can’t welcome their baby in the traditional way. Giving birth in a hospital may affect traditional practices and parents may not have many people with whom to celebrate the birth.

Refugee families may also be affected by trauma that was part of their refugee experience.

“When you give birth in (my home country) all your neighbours and families come to visit to congratulate you, to share the happiness and to help you. In Australia only my husband and I open the door of the house and celebrate. No one celebrated with us.” – Ethiopian woman

Some useful resources are listed here.

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