How to help someone with postnatal depression
Short on time? Then the key things to know are:
- Postnatal depression (PND) is very common - 1 in 10 people experience it
- It can be hard to know what to say or do when someone you care about has PND, but there are many ways you can support them
- Make sure you know the signs of PND - these include sleep disruption, despair, crying, obsessive thinking, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, withdrawal and lack of interest
- Always offer compassion and listen - offer space for their feelings to be heard
- You should encourage your loved one to speak to their GP, midwife or a mental health professional
Do you suspect your friend or family member has postnatal depression (PND), or perhaps your wife or partner? It can be tough to see someone living with PND; you may feel helpless or worry about what to say or what to do, or you may say nothing at all.
But there are many ways you can support your loved ones. Here we share what to look out for and how you can help.
Helping someone with postnatal depression (PND)
Around 1 in 10 people have postnatal depression, therefore it is highly likely you will know someone who has or is experiencing it. You may pick up signs of PND during pregnancy or they may appear after birth or several months later.
The good news is there are a variety of ways in which you can help:
Know the signs and symptoms
PND is like depression at any other time in life and common symptoms include sleep disruption, despair, crying, obsessive thinking, anxiety, panic, hopelessness, irritability, negative ruminations, withdrawal and lack of interest / pleasure in activities previously enjoyed. Some people may feel disconnected from their baby and have thoughts about harming themselves or their baby.
Encourage them to talk to a healthcare professional
Although you can be there to offer support, sometimes professional help is also needed. Support them to connect with professionals such as their NHS GP, midwife or health visitor and discuss their options. It is their job to help and there are different treatments and support options which may include psychological therapy and/ or medication. You can also speak to our expert psychologists who are experienced in helping those with postnatal depression.
Be there and listen (you don’t have to fix it!)
Simply be there and spend time with your close one. Offer space for them to express their emotions safely and be heard; no matter what they are feeling. It can be tempting to jump in to offer advice, work it out or find solutions to ‘fix it’ but this may not be helpful.
Offer compassion, care and understanding
First off, it is important to know PND is no one's fault; not yours and not theirs. Pregnancy comes with adjustment in all areas of life including social, relational, physical, emotional as well as changes in identity and life roles. It’s no wonder people struggle; this stuff is hard. Know that a lot of what happens in our minds is not our fault, we don’t choose depression.
Support them to eat healthy, keep active and get rest
Keeping the basics right is essential (as much as possible with a new baby!). Research shows that healthy diet, sleep and activity can offer a real buffer to symptoms of depression and can even rival the effect of medications.
Increasing achievement and enjoyable activities
Over time, people with depression tend to do less and less and opportunities for fulfilment may disappear completely; getting dressed or brushing teeth may even seem too much.
Encouraging someone to do something small every day that gives them a sense of achievement or enjoyment can be a massive help, even if they have to force themselves to do it. Perhaps plan activities together for the future; these don’t need to be major activities; small (and tiny) activities go a long way such as taking baby out for a walk.
Seek general support
If you have a wider support network, is there anything that they can offer or help out with? Whether it’s doing the laundry, taking the dog for a walk or cooking a meal. In spite of our pride or reservations about ‘putting people out’; people often want to help.
Offer encouragement in their role as a parent
People with depression often get stuck in highly self-critical thinking giving themselves a hard time that they are a 'bad parent'. It is important to offer feedback as a mother or father that they are doing a good job, even in spite of challenges, and that they matter to you.
Find support/baby groups and keep connected
It is common for people who are depressed to socially withdraw and isolate. Supporting people with depression to stay connected is important; this may mean connecting in a way that is different to pre baby times, such as joining baby groups.
Postnatal depression in fathers
The role of dads and parenting in general has shifted dramatically in recent decades with dads becoming more at the forefront of caring, home life and parenting. The number of men diagnosed with PND is on the up and if you are a father and can relate to the above, you are not alone.
Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 10 dads experience PND which is as high as some of the estimates for women. Outdated societal expectations regarding masculinity linger and may act as a barrier for men to talk about PND or access help. It’s more important than ever to include dads in our understanding of PND.
In a small minority of cases, some women become severely unwell after giving birth with an illness called postpartum psychosis (puerperal). This is different to PND and is very rare (1 in 1000). Symptoms include mania, racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, agitation, depression. They may also include delusions and hallucinations. This can come out of the blue and although serious, can be treated successfully with medication. If you notice any of these symptoms in someone you know, encourage them to contact their GP as soon as possible.
Finally, whoever you are supporting with antenatal postpartum depression, it is important to take care of yourself too. Find someone to talk to and take time for yourself, you need a break too.
Looking for support with postnatal depression? Book a consultation with our expert psychologists who offer online therapy and counselling from the comfort of your home.
Scotland, M. (2019). Why Post Natal Depression Matters (Vol. 15). Pinter & Martin Ltd.
Cree, M. (2015). The compassionate mind approach to postnatal depression: Using compassion focused therapy to enhance mood, confidence and bonding. Hachette UK.
Dr Victoria, Naytal Psychologist
Dr Victoria has over 10 years experience working with people who have a wide range of psychological difficulties. She holds honorary clinical lecturer status and has worked within a range of settings both within and outside of the NHS.