Postpartum depression may seem like a rare occurrence — so what should you do when it happens to someone you love?
Helping a friend with postpartum depression can seem like a tall order, especially if you have no experience with or know little about this mental disorder in the first place. If you’re wondering how to help someone with postpartum depression, the first thing to do is educate yourself; learn what postpartum depression is, why it’s more common than you think and that it’s not at all a reflection on your loved one’s ability to be a mother. Only after you understand the situation your loved one is in can you offer the proper support and understanding they need at this time in their life.
Remember: Your support, while appreciated and well-meaning, cannot replace the guidance of a medical professional. While supporting someone with postpartum depression, help the new parent get the medical support they need. Advocating for your loved one’s mental health is an important step in how to help your spouse with postpartum depression and can be the first step to helping your spouse (or other loved one) recover from this difficult time.
While helpful, the information in this article is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice.
How to Help Someone with Postpartum Depression
When supporting someone with postpartum depression, you may not know where to start. You may feel uncomfortable with the subject of mental health, and you may not be sure of what to (and what not to) say to help your friend during this difficult time.
This unease is completely normal — but it’s important that, if you want to provide postpartum depression partner support, you are brave and be open to learning as much as you can. As uncomfortable as you may feel, remember that your loved one is feeling much, much worse. It’s your responsibility to help them in whatever way you can.
While each situation involving postpartum depression will be different, there are a few steps you can take when helping a friend with postpartum depression.
Step 1: Offer Support and Understanding.
How do you help someone with postpartum depression? By validating their feelings and providing the emotional support they need during this time.
When a woman is struggling with postpartum depression, she is facing feelings of ineptitude and worry about herself as a mother. While you may think responding to her worries with reassurances will help, it can actually make her feel worse. When a woman is coping with postpartum depression, hearing the words, “But you’re a great mother!” doesn’t magically heal what she is feeling. In fact, it will make her feel worse that you are invalidating her feelings and that she “shouldn’t” be feeling the way she is.
Instead of trying to solve your friend’s problems, make sure you echo her concerns. Remind her that it’s okay to love her child a lot but feel overwhelmed and stressed — even angry — about her situation as a new parent or birth mother. Remind her that this is a safe place between you and her, and that she can share any feelings she may have, even if they are contradictory and don’t make sense. Be her shoulder to cry on and, if you have experience yourself with depression or anxiety, share your story to help her know she is not alone.
Step 2: Offer Specific Help and Assistance.
When people ask, “How can I help my wife with postpartum depression?” the first thing they tend to do is ask the person suffering from postpartum depression. This is often not helpful; a woman is coping with a lot trying to adjust to her new roles and responsibilities as a mother, and trying to articulate exactly what she needs help with can be stressful.
So, instead of waiting for your loved one to suggest something for you to assist with, take initiative. Bake a casserole or another easy-to-reheat meal for the nights she is overwhelmed. If she is parenting, offer to babysit for an afternoon so she can have time to herself. Suggest that you accompany her to her doctor’s appointments, and make sure that her doctor focuses on her health just as much as her baby’s. Pay attention to what is lacking in her daily schedule, and find a way to provide that service to her without forcing her to ask for it.
Step 3: Focus on Her, Not Her Baby.
When visiting someone after a baby is born, it’s easy to get caught up in the cuteness of the new arrival. However, remember that your loved one may have conflicting feelings about her child at this moment, and you fawning over the baby will likely remind her that she is not having the “normal” feelings a “good” mom should have.
Supporting someone with postpartum depression means listening to them and putting your full attention toward their mental health. If possible, find a way to meet with her away from her newborn so she can speak freely and not feel pressured to act a certain way or downplay her emotions.
Step 4: Remind Her of Her Options.
If you’re wondering how to help someone with postpartum depression, you should be aware that there are medical and therapeutic options available to your loved one. While it’s important to not be overbearing when it comes to offering suggestions for your loved one, consider reminding her of these options:
- Speaking with a mental health professional. Her mood disorder can be properly diagnosed and she can receive the medical care she needs, which may include prescription antidepressants.
- Attending solo or group therapy. Sometimes, talking with someone who has been in the same situation and can relate can mean the world for a woman suffering from postpartum depression.
- Taking advantage of natural treatment. Simple acts like eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting exercise can alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.
- Recognizing the cause of her postpartum depression. If a woman’s negative feelings about parenting continue after her postpartum depression treatment, she may want to consider a temporary guardianship or adoption to give her child a safe home with parents who are 100 percent ready to care for him or her.
Step 5: Keep in Close Contact and Remind Her She is Not Alone.
Sometimes, you may ask, “How do you help someone with postpartum depression if they don’t want help?” This is a fine line to walk. Remember that your loved one is coping with a lot during this time; they may need space and alone time to deal with their emotions and the situation they have found themselves in.
That said, don’t give up on your loved one. If they don’t respond to your messages or calls, pull back a bit — but don’t abandon them altogether. A simple, “I’m thinking of you” can mean a lot, even if your loved one doesn’t have the energy to respond. Knowing that you are there for them when they are ready will play a big role in supporting someone with postpartum depression.
A special note: If you are seriously concerned about your loved one and her baby’s well-being, and she has not responded to your calls or messages, consider calling your local police department for a welfare check. However, remember that this step can backfire and harm your relationship if unwanted, so this should typically be a last-effort solution.