On the back of a BBC report that stated that “More than a third of mothers have experienced mental health issues related to parenthood” and “17% of fathers had experienced similar issues”, I thought I’d do a post trying to give advice on ways someone can help a person who they feel may be at risk of postnatal depression.
How You Can Help
Before I start, I will say that it’s actually quite tough to give out advice blindly like this. I don’t know anything about the situation in which you find yourself. I also don’t know who’s asking for advice. It could be a wife seeking help for her husband, a parent seeking help for her daughter, or a simply a friend concerned about a couple who might be struggling. Nonetheless, I will try my best to give some broad advice that may be applicable across the board.
Talk About It
There’s a very good chance that if someone is suffering from postnatal depression they won’t really want to talk about it. Depression in general is often a hidden illness, and as such, it often goes unnoticed. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to help someone. For a start, you have to try and open the dialogue up and talk about how they’re feeling. It’s going to be incredibly tough to get someone to open up enough where they might start talking about depression, especially when it may involve holding negative feelings towards their newborn, but you have to try. Talking about it is the first step to getting better, and if you can encourage it, then you’ve done a lot to help.
Don’t Judge the Emotions
When they do start to talk, try not to judge any of the emotions they talk about. No one wants to be depressed. And certainly no one wants to dislike their baby. Appreciate that the person doesn’t have any control over how they are feeling, and that this depression isn’t them. My wife found this incredibly hard; she was often frustrated that not only did I not love Isabelle, but I really disliked her. But she tried to understand that I couldn’t help it. It’s not easy, but if you make them feel bad for not having an emotion they have no control over, then you’re going to introduce guilt into this mess, and that will only make things worse.
For those out there that aren’t directly involved with the baby, I’m talking about friends and family, then chances are you’re going to be visiting. Many people think they help out new couples merely by popping by to see them. But if done wrongly, this can make matters worse. What visiting can sometimes do is put pressure on the new parents to play hosts. Often visitors will come, steal away precious bonding moments by taking the sleeping baby away from the mother or father and pursue to use the baby as a accessory to take their pictures, only to then leave once the baby has aroused and requires feeding. I’m not saying don’t visit a new couple, I’m saying be mindful when you do. Don’t jump straight into holding the baby. Make your own tea and coffee, maybe clean up a little whilst you do. Perhaps you could bring food with you, and then maybe you could take a picture of this new family all together. I know visiting had a negative affect on me at times, and part of it came from some of the things I just mentioned.
The BBC also stated that:
“15% of mothers and a quarter of fathers say they didn’t receive any emotional support for their parenting at all. This is despite a growing understanding that postpartum depression affects men as well as women.”
So be there to help both parents. Don’t ignore the father and assume he’s coping too; actually ask him if he’s bonding with the baby, and if he’s coping with this drastic life change. Throughout the vast majority of human history we’ve had help from a community of sorts in raising babies, modern day should be no different.
If you want a few more suggestions on ways to help, then here’s a post about five ways to help.
If You Feel That You May Have Postnatal Depression
If you happen to feel that you’re suffering from postnatal depression, then perhaps you’ve already made a step in the right direction. The mere fact that you’re reading this implies that you’re looking for advice on ways to help, and everything starts from being willing to help yourself. Someone can try everything they can think of to help someone, but if the person isn’t ready to help themselves, you’re going to have a hard time.
I do have a video about ways to help with postnatal depression that you can watch here:
I’ve also made a toolkit for those looking for more advice on ways to help, which can be found here.