How you can help someone with postnatal depression

Thank you to Emily Jane Clark, author of Sleep is For the Week, for sharing her experience and advice for the Mama Life London mental health blog. 

With one in five women experiencing a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth, chances are, most of us will know somebody who is suffering from postnatal depression (PND).

Watching a loved one go though such a tough time can be frustrating and heartbreaking- all you want to do is to make them feel better but often you just don’t know how.
While there are no magic words that will banish the illness, there are some ways in which you can support a loved one with PND.  
I had severe depression and anxiety after the birth of my eldest daughter and I could not have coped without the ongoing support of my family, my heath visitor and the charity Home-Start.  
While every case of PND is different, here are a few things people did that helped me:
1. Be there

Don’t avoid them for fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’. It is better to say the wrong thing, than to say nothing at all.

2. Do your research

Find out as much as you can about postnatal illness. This will give you a greater understanding about what your friend/partner is going through.

3. Tell her you get it

Remind her every day that she is not weak or a bad mother. She is ill and it is not her fault – she needs to know that people understand that.

4. Don’t take offence

People with depression often become distant from people close to them. Try not to take it personally, it is just a symptom of her illness.

5. Sympathise

It can be difficult to identify with someone with PND, especially if you have never suffered from a mental illness. But you can let her know that  you do understand that she feels bad and you are there for her.

6. Reassurance

She needs to hear that she is still a good mother, despite feeling awful. Her baby is happy and healthy and she should be proud of that.

7. Understand that she does want to get better

Never tell her to ‘cheer up’ or ‘pull herself together’ – even if you say it with the best of intentions. If she could just ‘cheer up’ she would!

8. Help with practical things

When you are depressed, even the smallest task can feel like a major effort. So bring her around some groceries, help out with the baby or offer to do her laundry. All of which will be greatly appreciated!

9. Gently encourage her to go outside 

Simply going for a walk outdoors can have a positive effect on your mental health. It reduces stress, anxiety and releases ‘happy hormones’ called endorphins. She may not feel like it but even if you only get her to the end of the street, it’ll be a start.

10. Distract her

When you are in the thick of PND, your illness can be all you focus on. Tell her a funny story or about a film you just watched or whatever you can think of (that is not related to PND or babies). She may not ‘bring much to the party’ but it’ll take her mind off her own feelings a little.

11. Listen to her

Talking is the key to recovering from a mental illness. If she does ever open up, turn off your phone and let her talk.  

12. Be patient

Overcoming PND can be a long battle. Don’t give up on her.