“I desperately wanted someone to hold me tight, keep me safe, and tell me it was going to be okay.” -Finding Hope: A journey through postnatal depression by Louise Frame
How to support a mother
Listen quietly but with interest.
Try to understand – it’s hard for someone who is depressed or anxious to explain how they feel.
Avoid judging or getting angry – it’s no ones fault.
Be there (this means to be emotionally available as well as physically present). Be patient.
Help reduce stresses. Offer practical help. If a person isn’t sure what help they want, offer alternatives or suggestions e.g. “I would like to help, can I cook a meal or take the older children out?” “Your house looks fine, but I know some people find they don’t have the energy to do any housework – can I vacuum or hang out the washing, or something?” (Don’t have your own agenda about what you think needs doing – do what they want done!)
Support her to do the baby cares herself rather than take over and do them (unless she asks you to). Just being with her and her baby when she is anxious will help. If she is very unwell she may not be able to do this.
Give positive words of support, affection and encouragement. Be positive about any accomplishments no matter how small they might seem.
Don’t take what they say personally. Remember that when a person is unwell or stressed they can say things they don’t mean, and their mood can change quickly.
Remain positive. Provide encouragement and lots of positive reinforcement – even if what you are saying seems obvious. When someone is depressed they are not thinking in their usual way and they have great difficulty seeing the positives.
When reassuring, try not to dismiss a persons concerns. Instead of saying something isn’t a problem say, for example, “ I can see that is really worrying you - I will be with you to help with that”
Due to the indecisiveness of depression a person may need guidance and support with decision making - but don’t jump in too early with your solutions.
Offer distracting thoughts or activities, especially if you can see that they are going round and round in circles in their thinking or are overwhelmed by their feelings.
Help them to get out and have fresh air and exercise. They may not feel motivated to do so but will often feel better if they do.
Help get regular meals/snacks especially if breastfeeding.
Help her to have time away from her baby doing something pleasurable, such as getting her hair done, having a massage – but not doing the groceries.
If she is suffering a lot and not getting better, help her to get help. (See Support)
Take seriously any negative thoughts she may have about harming herself, or her baby, and get help urgently.
- Sometimes offering help is not easy.
- It may not seem to be appreciated.
“We were all really surprised when Katie told us that she had postnatal depression. She had always seemed so capable and would take everything in her stride. It just goes to show that PND can happen to anyone. Our whole family became very supportive of Katie. We all talked about what was happening and now that she is well, we still talk about it. We felt it was important to be open and honest and involve everyone in the family. We tried to be supportive of her without taking control. She still had a new baby that she needed to bond with. We would do practical stuff for her, such as cleaning, washing and preparing meals. We were lucky that we could be on hand whenever she needed us” - Elaine, a grandmother
“Family support was the most important thing to help me get through. I didn’t need medication. As soon as I told everyone how I felt and what was happening everything started to get heaps better.” - Katie
How to support a father
- Men are less likely to want to talk but encourage them gently if they seem ready for this. For example, offer some openings for them to talk like asking “it can be tough with a new baby – how’s it going”
- Partners need to know that they are not failing their baby or partner if they feel stressed
- Offer practical support
- Be available to them
- If necessary, help them to get help. Men are even more reluctant to do this than women.
- Family members often forget that the partner of a woman with PND will also be suffering. Remember to offer him your support and help.