Over the past few years, many aspects of life that held a great deal of importance took a backseat as the world went into battle against the pandemic.
According to Arabella Gibson, CEO of the Gidget Foundation, help-seeking behaviour was also temporarily quenched, perhaps by the realisation that others were likely suffering just as much, if not more.
However, this year is proving to be a turning point for the Australian charity as the nation emerges from the fog of disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis and regain the confidence to come forward and admit the need for support.
"What we're seeing is a huge increase in demand for our services," Gibson reveals. "We currently have a nearly six-month wait for services across all of our centres. And, that’s despite having delivered 127 per cent more services year-on-year in the past year," Gibson says.
It’s clear when Gibson shares these figures that they’re so much more – they’re human beings who are suffering and who have reached out for care and support.
"I certainly feel the world of weight on my shoulders every day to ensure that we deliver on what it is that we set out to achieve because if we don't, it means that we could lose someone and I don't take that lightly." – Arabella Gibson
"Unfortunately, many people spend a lot of time feeling unwell when they don’t need to," she explains. "They could have had a chat to their GP or to their partner, family or friends and shared how they were feeling and then received the support they needed to come back out the other side and go on to live a really fulfilled and happy life."
It sounds simple in theory, yet sadly perinatal mental health issues are shrouded in stigma, making it difficult for women and couples to admit their struggles at a time when they should seemingly be euphoric at the birth of their child.
"The thing that drives me most every day is that I want for the next generation to have a more empathetic and understanding environment where people are more supported and they have the community understanding this issue more," Gibson affirms.
It’s a desire that’s deeply embedded in the organisation’s history and namesake; Gidget pays homage to Louise Blacker – aka Gidget – a young mum who took her life while silently battling with postnatal depression.
The foundation was established by her close friends and family in 2001, and Gibson, a former PBL Media Senior Media Executive, came on board in 2017 to become the organisation’s guiding light.
"I certainly feel the world of weight on my shoulders every day to ensure that we deliver on what it is that we set out to achieve because if we don't, it means that we could lose someone and I don't take that lightly," Gibson reflects.
While most not-for-profits have struggled in recent years, the Gidget Foundation is widely recognised as the nation’s peak perinatal mental health body and continues to uphold this coveted status thanks to generous donations.
"We've held major fundraising events every single year for the past 21 years that have been really the backbone of our organisation," Gibson says. "And we've just received a commitment from the Commonwealth for a A$25 million investment for 20 new Gidget Houses, which will open over the next four years."
To reduce as many barriers as possible to seeking and providing assistance, consultations are free of charge for families and registered psychologists can specialise in this field through the foundation’s training and development institute.
"There's actually no other program like it out there where people can earn an income, but at the same time have the capacity to be supervised, mentored and trained into a specialist space," she says.
It’s an initiative that signifies a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the perinatal field. "The workforce in the mental health space is incredibly depleted and there’s just not enough people to support this particular industry," Gibson admits.
Yet despite the 115 clinicians who are currently tending to patients across 23 Gidget Houses, and a national telehealth program in full swing, the overwhelming demand for the organisation’s services suggests that education is just as important as revenue growth.
"I think [as a society] we have expectations that are unrealistic, and I think that we focus so much on the birth and having the baby and don’t think a lot about what happens after the baby arrives," Gibson explains.
"Our family and friends may not be within the same geographical area anymore and we don't necessarily have that close-knit network that we used to have."
With our traditional villages lost, the foundation’s role is to help parents experience the best parenthood journey possible. Celebrating 21 years of delivering on this promise is a special position to be in – and one Gibson hopes to take to the next phase of growth.
"This year, being our 21st year, will be culminating in our 21st celebration – the Gidget Ladies' Lunch, which is an event to be attended by 1,500 women," she says. "It's very much a coveted ticket and it should be a really wonderful celebration."
To be held on 23 September, 2022 at the Darling Harbour ICC Sydney Grand Ballroom, the event builds on the legacy of Gidget by raising awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety and fundraising so the foundation can enact an ambitious growth plan.
"We treat the foundation like a business, in the sense that every decision is really heavily considered and assessed for risk," Gibson says. "That allows us to have that agility to make decisions that can innovate."
Click here to purchase your ticket.