How to support someone with Postnatal Depression

Postnatal depression can be an overwhelming and isolating experience for mothers after childbirth. The transition into motherhood brings forth numerous challenges, alongside the joy of having a newborn. New mothers can often grapple with disrupted sleep, depleted energy levels, diminished self-esteem, and pervasive feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal depression is a form of depression that usually comes on within the first year after giving birth, often emerging in the initial weeks or months. Its onset may be gradual or sudden, and its severity can vary from mild and temporary to severe and persistent. While many women experience a relatively brief episode of postnatal depression that resolves swiftly, some may require the assistance of healthcare professionals to navigate through it.

Like every mood disorder, there is much more to consider than just the symptoms. In order to truly understand its complexity, postnatal depression can be better understood through the lens of biology, psychology, and society norms and cultures – see more here Post Natal Depression.

If someone you know is suffering with postnatal depression, you may be wondering how to help. Here are some ways that you can offer support.

1. Remind her that this is temporary

Mothers who suffer from postnatal depression often fear that they will never feel the same way again after the birth of their children. After validating and understanding their feelings, ensuring they feel heard and understood, consider beginning a gentle conversation around feelings being temporary. Try and support the mother to understand that the feelings she is experiencing are symptoms, not who she is. The difficulties won’t last forever, and with time, support and understanding, she will be able to notice changes in her feelings. If she feels discouraged, remind her that postpartum feelings fluctuate and it’s important she takes notice of how feelings have always changed and will continue to change.

2. Listen to her feelings

If you know a mother who needs some postnatal support, they probably feel guilty, sad, alone, and like they aren’t a good mother. It is possible that they might feel postpartum anxiety or even anger after giving birth.  Feelings like these should not be ignored. Listen to her and show her that you care for her. When you are there listening, try to understand what she is going through without judging or invalidating her feelings, she will feel more supported and safe.

3. Reassure her

Postnatal depression can manifest as difficulty in bonding with your baby, an inability to feel like a good mother, and feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy. If you’re wondering how to help support someone with postnatal depression, be sure to listen to her and reassure her. Let her know that even though she may not feel like one, she is an excellent parent. It can be hugely helpful for a woman with postnatal depression to receive this kind of reassurance.

4. Make specific plans

Another way to offer assistance to someone experiencing postnatal depression is to find specific things that you can do to support the mother and her family. Often, people may say, ‘Let me know how I can help,’ but due to the fact that mums suffering from postnatal depression already feel inadequate, they may not accept a general offer of support.

Instead, offer specific ways to help at specific times. It may mean bringing dinner one night or watching the baby for a few hours so that mum can sleep. You should make concrete plans and follow through with them.

5. Don’t compare

When you are trying to help someone with postnatal depression and you have children, don’t compare your experience with theirs. Often women with postnatal depression already feel like they are not good mothers. Consider refraining from statements like, ‘When I had my baby, I did this,’ or ‘If you do this, you will feel better.’ Instead, ask more curious questions about their feelings and what they think might be contributing to the way they feel. 

6. Support her decisions

Be sensitive to a mother’s decisions, – let her build her confidence that she has the capacity to parent and feel better in the future. Lots of others may provide unsolicited advice, consider refraining from this and be more open to her journey and the choices she makes along the way.

Final Words

Postnatal depression has so many complicated factors that are intertwined. It is hard to pinpoint a singular cause. The important thing is to normalise this condition and give women the strength to ask for help. Also note that men can also experience similar feelings after becoming a father, don’t overlook their feelings but rather apply the same approach to appreciate, understand and support them through their journey. 

If you are a close relative or friend of a mother who is experiencing postnatal depression, you might be providing significant emotional and practical support on a daily basis. By constantly looking out for a loved one, you may find yourself in need of someone to lean on as well. Ensure you are looking after yourself too.

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