People with Purpose: It takes a village to raise a mother

Posted on 30 Apr 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Stressed mother baby

Dinah Thomasset has turned her experience as a young mother struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety into a movement aimed at helping other women navigate the challenges of welcoming a newborn into their lives.

How did you come to found Villagehood Australia?

Villagehood Australia was founded in 2020 in response to both alarming statistics surrounding mothers – one in five mothers struggle with postnatal depression and anxiety, with suicide being the leading cause of maternal death in the perinatal period – and my personal journey through motherhood.

As a mother myself, I experienced firsthand the overwhelming challenges and emotions that accompany the early stages of parenthood.

Dinah Thomasset CEO Villagehood Australia
Villagehood Australia founder and CEO Dinah Thomasset.

Struggling with feelings of isolation, anxiety and postnatal depression, I realised the critical need for a supportive community where mothers could come together to share their experiences and support one another.

Drawing from my own experiences, including growing up in a village-like family in Morocco, and inspired by the desire to create a space for mothers to feel seen, heard and valued, Villagehood Australia was born.

Being the only grassroots peer support charity in South Australia with a mother-centred approach, we are uniquely equipped to address these critical needs.

Our evidence-based peer support programs cater specifically to mothers during the early years, offering a lifeline for those navigating the complexities of motherhood and needing extra support.

What is the need you are addressing?

The need to address maternal mental health (MMH) is urgent, given the alarming statistics and the significant impact it has on individuals, families, and communities.

In Australia, approximately 60,000 women experience postnatal depression within the first two years after birth, with maternal suicide being the leading cause of maternal death.

Despite medical advancements, the rate of maternal suicide has remained unchanged for years, indicating a pressing need for intervention.

The impact of MMH disorders extends beyond the individual, affecting the physical and mental development of children and placing additional strain on families and communities.

Peer support has emerged as a promising solution to address the gaps in traditional healthcare systems. Research confirms that peer support can prevent and treat postnatal depression, providing emotional validation, reducing isolation, and fostering a sense of belonging among mothers.

Peer support groups also facilitate the exchange of practical advice and parenting tips, empowering mothers and enhancing their confidence in their parenting abilities.

As a grassroots registered charity dedicated to supporting mothers with young children during the critical early years, Villagehood Australia is uniquely positioned to help.

"Our philosophy is centred on creating a nurturing, village-like environment where mothers can find understanding, support and resources to navigate the early years of parenthood."

What’s the philosophy behind Villagehood Australia?

Villagehood Australia's philosophy is deeply rooted in the belief that motherhood is a transformative journey that requires holistic support and a sense of community.

We understand that motherhood is not always a linear path of joy but can often bring significant challenges, particularly for first-time mothers.

Our philosophy is centred on creating a nurturing, village-like environment where mothers can find understanding, support and resources to navigate the early years of parenthood.

We aim to foster connections within communities, prioritise maternal mental wellbeing, and empower mothers to embrace their roles with confidence and resilience.

Dinah with her newborn baby.

What were some of the challenges that you experienced as a new mum?

As a new mum, I faced some significant challenges that really took a toll on my emotional wellbeing.

Motherhood wasn't the idyllic experience I had imagined; instead, it brought on waves of worry, anxiety and self-doubt. One of the toughest parts was feeling totally unprepared for motherhood and isolated, especially with my family and support network living 18,000 kilometres away in Morocco.

Taking care of a newborn, particularly breastfeeding, turned out to be much harder than I anticipated. The constant cycle of attending to my baby's feeding needs, along with sleepless nights, really weighed on my mental health.

On top of that, the stigma around mental health made it hard to share how I really felt. It felt like society expected me to prioritise my baby's needs above my own and not complain because I was fortunate to be a mum, which only added to the stress.

Dealing with cultural differences was another hurdle.

Despite speaking English fluently, navigating the healthcare system was a challenge and finding affordable childcare so I could take time to see health professionals was almost impossible.

To top it off, finding accessible perinatal psychologists in my local area was far too difficult, not to mention the costly gap you still have to pay even on a mental health plan.

Furthermore, I had a strong desire to return to work, but the unrealistic expectations on working mums only added to the stress and were overwhelming. Society seemed to expect me to effortlessly juggle it all, but the reality was far from easy.

Overall, my journey as a new mum highlighted the critical need for maternal support. Society needs to recognise the unique challenges mums face and offer more support to help navigate them.

What have you learned since establishing Villagehood Australia about making life easier for mums during the early years?

I've learned the importance of providing comprehensive support tailored to the unique needs of mothers during the early years.

Through our programs and initiatives, we prioritise maternal mental wellbeing, offering a safe and inclusive space where mothers can find understanding, empathy and practical support.

We've discovered the power of peer support in fostering resilience and empowerment among mothers, providing them with the tools and resources they need to navigate the challenges of early parenthood with confidence.

By fostering connections within communities and prioritising maternal mental health, we aim to make life easier for all mums, empowering them to embrace the joys and challenges of motherhood with resilience and confidence.

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