How to Support Someone with Postpartum Depression
If you are the partner, friend, or loved one of a woman who is experiencing changes in their mood following the birth of a child, you are not alone. With a staggering statistic from a new study published in March of 2022 finding that since the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 3 postpartum patients screened positive for depression, you may find yourself supporting a woman you care for through something that can feel a bit overwhelming to you. You may be wondering - what can I do to help?
Read on for how to support someone with postpartum depression. If you feel your loved one is struggling to anxiety, read our recommendations here for how to support someone struggling with anxiety.
5 ways to support someone with postpartum depression
1. Recognize the signs of PPD and attempt to put yourself in their shoes.
A helpful place to start is to first educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of PPD in an effort to recognize whether your loved one is experiencing the normal ups and downs of new motherhood, or something more serious that might require professional attention. Depression comes in many shapes and forms. PPD is marked by severe symptoms that impact a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life.
Your loved one may be experiencing an array of emotions related to PPD including crying spells, intense anxiety, obsessive thoughts, apathy towards their newborn, or disinterest in their own personal self-care. On top of these challenging feelings and behaviors, they may also be experiencing feelings of shame and guilt about their PPD symptoms and as a result may struggle to ask for help.
2. Let them express their feelings in a way that is natural for them.
PPD can be very isolating and sufferers can, at times, feel as if no one could possibly understand the way that they feel or help them through these difficult times. As a support person, the first step is to be present and available to your loved one so they know they are not alone. In the early stages this might be you silently just being physically present, but overtime this warm presence will hopefully support them in feeling comfortable enough to open up about their feelings and begin to share the ways in which you can support them.
3. Get support for yourself
This is also a difficult time in your life and you may find yourself needing support and guidance while supporting someone with PPD. It is very common for caretakers, including those supporting loved ones with mental illness, to lose sight of their own needs and emotional well-being. Making time for your own self-care, including potentially speaking to a therapist, helps you be a better support to someone else. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
4. Remember that PPD is not anyone’s fault
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding PPD persists in today’s society. As much as half of PPD in new mothers goes undiagnosed because of feelings of guilt or shame, fear that disclosure could lead to mockery, or a fear of losing their child due to their struggles. PPD is a medical condition that is completely treatable. About 90% of women who have postpartum depression can be treated successfully with a combination of medication and therapy.
5. Understand your role
Postpartum depression is a medical condition that requires professional help. It is not your responsibility to diagnose your partner, friend, or loved one and remember that you are not their therapist. Postpartum depression is partly caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that often requires medical treatment, and it’s not your job to tackle that aspect of it. You can, however, encourage your loved one to seek professional help from their doctor, OBGYN, or engage in a therapy, whether locally or online.
Seven Starling is one option for support, offering online mental healthcare designed just for new mothers and caregivers. With a combination of specialized individual and group therapy, Seven Starling effectively treats common perinatal mood disorders like Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Encouraging the new Mom in your life to seek professional help is certainly part of your role. Your loved one can get started here with Seven Starling.
If you are supporting someone in crisis
If you are supporting someone who may need immediate help, please contact one of the national emergency services listed below. They are available night and day. It is very important that you reach out immediately and find the support and information you need to ensure safety of your loved one. Here are some reliable resources to contact in a crisis:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Website: 1-800-273-8255; www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Calling for yourself or someone you care about is both free and confidential. There is a network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide who are available 24/7 for immediate assistance.
Leaning into your role
In general, your main role when supporting a new Mom with postpartum depression is to be a good listener and provide a safe space. That means:
- Listen to them and allow them to express their feelings without judgment.
- Don’t try to fix their feelings. Instead, you can validate what they are feeling and empathize as best you can.
- Help them understand that you don’t blame them for how they are feeling and that postpartum depression isn’t their fault.
- Help them understand that what they are experiencing is temporary and treatment for postpartum depression works, and they will feel like themselves again.
- Help them understand that feelings are not facts and that a helping professional can assist them with sorting out thoughts that may not be true.
The five recommendations related to supporting someone with postpartum depression outlined in this article can seem easier said than done. However, do not minimize the power of your presence, encouragement, and lending your listening ear to the new Mom in your life.
How to best communicate with the new mom you are supporting
Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to start. You may be wondering how to begin the conversation surrounding postpartum depression. If you’re worried about starting this conversation, keep in mind that it is better to offer the conversation than to say nothing at all.
Be certain to offer to have the conversation and then respect your loved ones decision to engage in the conversation or not. Some people really desire the opportunity to share and process their feelings, while others may be more inclined to process internally. If they don’t want to talk, then don’t talk. Even if you have the best intentions, pressuring someone to talk will not make them feel supported. It can actually do quite the opposite.
So, how should you start that conversation? Try starting with telling that person how much you care for them. Using I-statements can be extremely helpful here!
Some examples of conversation starters could be:
- “I really care about you and I think you are a great Mom. I’ve noticed you have alluded to things being really hard right now. I’d love to talk with you about whatever is going on.”
- “I’ve noticed that you are tearful at times when we talk. How are things with you?”
- “How are you doing now that you are a mom (first time, second time, etc.)? I’ve noticed that some women in my life really started struggling at this point in time postpartum. I wanted to check-in and see how you are doing.”
Before entering into any conversation, it’s good to check the role of your relationship with this person as well. For example, if you’re really close, or even their partner, and have talked about deep topics before, then you can certainly create a safe space to talk about their feelings and/or symptoms. But, if you’re more of an acquaintance, it would be best to ask if they would like to talk about their experiences with this pregnancy. They will open up if they want to and if they don’t, just let it be.
Not up for talking?
Other than talking, distractions such as going out to lunch or watching a movie together is a good idea. Just be aware that when someone is depressed, they may turn you down several times before they say yes. Do not take this personally. The depressed state of mind literally prevents people from enjoying or doing the things that used to be the norm for them. You can always gently remind your friend that you love them, you are there for them, and you are open to whatever would be easiest and best for them during this time.
Wondering what to walk away with from this article?
- Trust your instincts.
- Understand your role as a supporter.
- Communicate, openly and honestly.
- Take care of yourself.
- If the person you are supporting is not in crisis, take “no” for an answer.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Postpartum depression. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression
Mughal S, Azhar Y, Siddiqui W. Postpartum Depression. [Updated 2021 Jul 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519070/
Postpartum support international - psi. Postpartum Support International (PSI). (2022, April 8). Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.postpartum.net/
Seven Starling. Seven Starling. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://www.sevenstarling.com/
Shuman, C.J., Peahl, A.F., Pareddy, N. et al. Postpartum depression and associated risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic. BMC Res Notes 15, 102 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-022-05991-8