Not if you’re suffering with Post-natal depression.
Here’s a guide to helping a loved one through what can be a difficult season.
She could be your wife, your sister, your daughter or your friend – no matter how close you are, a woman experiencing post-natal depression can seem unreachable. There’s an invisible divide between you and her, a divide which keeps her isolated and alone with her thoughts which convince her that she’s failing, that tell her she’s not good enough, that she doesn’t deserve to be a mother.
As hard as it is for the person experiencing PND it can be just as hard for those who love her look on helplessly. The good news is that there are practical things that you can do to help.
Ask how she’s feeling
I sat in a side room in A&E waiting for a psych consult because the urge to cut myself had become so strong I wasn’t sure that I could keep myself safe. When the pysch consultant arrived my mum expressed her surprise at my current mental state, ‘I saw her on Friday and asked how she was – she said she was fine’.
My mum had indeed asked how I was just two days before; in between runs to the tip, from the other side of the garden, in front of my brother and my auntie and uncle. Her question was cursory and I gave the standard response.
A more helpful question is, ‘how are you feeling today?’ or ‘how is your mood today compared to yesterday/last week’ – this is more specific and encourages a conversation. If possible ask when you’re not surrounded by other people and be prepared to take the time to listen.
Be prepared to hear the answer
What she says might not make for easy listening. She might speak of wanting to harm herself or her baby. Often these are intrusive thoughts; she might not want to necessarily action them but the thoughts themselves can be distressing.
Post-natal depression is a bitch in the sense that you’ve never had a greater reason to live but inexplicably feel like you want to die. For me this was a great source of internal struggle.
The most helpful thing you can do is listen without judgement. The more she opens up to you about what’s going on in her mind, the less chance there is that she will act on these thoughts.
Keep her safe
That said if she does talk about urges to harm herself or her baby becoming stronger or uncontrollable seek professional help, if she’s already under the care of a G.P., Peri-natal or Community Mental Health team contact them, (they will often have a crisis line or out of hours helpline), if all else fails A&E is a good starting point.
(Note this advice is for women suffering from post-natal depression, not post-partum psychosis which is a very serious condition and medical help should be sought urgently).
Look after her wellbeing
One of the, (many) therapies I’ve undergone during my PND journey was Dialetic Behavioural Therapy; during this session I was taught an acronym for self-care, (STRENGTH – see below) which I scoffed at because I was a new mum and there was no way I could stick to it – I had a baby to take care of! What a failed to see at the time was that although I was taking care of my baby I was falling apart myself. The old ‘fit your own oxygen mask before helping others’ thing definitely applies here.
S leep (I laughed hardest at this one)
T ake care of yourself (take prescribed medication, attend doctors appointments etc)
R esist unhelpful behaviours
G ain mastery
T ake time for yourself (another big ‘ha!’ moment)
H ealthy self talk
Help her to take care of herself; on days when even getting out of bed is a struggle making sure that there’s nutritious food in the house will make eating well easier, offering to accompany her on a short walk will provide the opportunity for fresh air and gentle exercise and looking after the baby for an hour or two will allow her to get some much needed rest. It may not sound like a lot but I promise you it helps.
Remind her that there is hope
For me PND was like a black curtain coming down in front of my face; life was devoid of pleasure and hope. It was helpful at that time to be reminded that I wasn’t going to feel like that forever, sometimes I clung to that thought like it was a life raft, (which in many ways I suppose it was).
16 months on; two visits to A&E, 2 weeks of two visits a day as an outpatient at the local pyschiatric hospital, (I’ll never forget that first visit – ‘what does one wear when off to the local mental facility? Does this dress go with my crazy?) 1 round of Dialetic Behavioural Therapy, 3 rounds of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (1 for Post Natal Anxiety, 1 for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and one for Post Natal Depression), 2 incidents of self-harm and lots of lovely meds I’m starting to feel better. If you or someone you know is suffering from PND I promise that one day you/they will too.