Hey sweet friends, today we’re going to dive into Maternal Mental Health Month a little further and we’re going to discuss something very near and dear to my heart-when someone you love is struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety.
The first person to come to me and tell me things felt off was my husband. He was there day in and out, watching me struggle. Since he’s met me, Josh has watched me battle a hundred battles for my mental health. When I began to present signs of postpartum depression and anxiety, Josh was the one who brought it up. Without him pushing me I’m not sure I ever would have sought help.
I know many of you reading this today are biological mothers. My survey from this spring showed that. Some of you may have struggled through postpartum mental health issues, others maybe not. The chances are that even those of you who are not birth mothers will be around someone who does give birth are pretty high as well. I believe it’s always important to be vigilant and there for these new (and OLD) mothers! Here are some ways you can try help a mother struggling with postpartum mental health issues.
Know the signs.
The first and most important part of this is to know what you’re looking for. Postpartum mental illness can take on many forms. It doesn’t always look like what we picture a severely depressed person looking like: unable to leave their bed and crying constantly. Sometimes a person dealing with this goes on able to function the exact same way.
I wrote about how to recognize postpartum depression before, for mothers who just gave birth. This information though could be great for any of their friends and relatives. I also urge people to remember the many different forms mental illness can take postpartum.
Know the facts.
A person can develop postpartum depression after one baby and not any others. They can have four without it and then one with it. The woman can have a huge history of mental illness or they can be one of those people who have never had any mental health issues. (Those still exist, right?) Not all moms with PPD are dangerous-but yes, some can be. This isn’t about having “more faith”; it’s a mental illness. Whether a woman becomes pregnant on accident, or has been trying for years, it may develop. If she’s virtually alone with the baby or has the best support system ever.
Know the facts! It’s imperative you are educated not only on the signs but also on the facts surrounding maternal mental illness. Being aware will give you more power as you to help. Knowing the facts about it will also help you…
Know your personal bias.
I don’t say this out of judgment sweet friends. We all have some personal biases. I have a very good AND EDUCATED, friend who once said to me “What do I even have to be depressed about?” She never once questioned my depression. But when she was diagnosed with it she didn’t want to accept it because she had a good life. There was no trauma and nothing to be depressed about.
Sweet friends, sometimes there’s no trauma or outside contributing actors. A mental illness is a mental illness. Like cancer, it can occur at no fault of the individual. But also like cancer, there can be things that happen in your life that cause it to develop. Postpartum depression is not excused from this comparison.
Unlike cancer though, we as a society want something to point at and say “This is what caused it” when it comes to mental illness. That “this” isn’t always there.
Sometimes the mental illness just is.
Why do I share this little spiel? Because we all have personal biases. And that’s okay. You shouldn’t live in them-you should work your bottom off to rid yourself of ignorant biases. But the time to work on that is NOT when going to a friend in the midst of a struggle.
Before you approach a new mama you think is struggling, make sure you have yourself in check. Did you think “well she’s wanted this for so long, what does she have to be upset about?” That’s not something to say to a new mom. Do you think “It’s normal to check a child’s breathe 60 times in the night, unable to sleep because you’re so anxious?” Also don’t say that.
Be aware of your own personal biases and do not force the ones you have on a struggling parent.
(Some cute babies to lighten this hard topic!)
Know what to ask. (AND LISTEN)
Once you have all the things above done, it’s time to approach this mother you love. Please, please, please, for all things that are good and holy, do not just come out and say “I think you have postpartum depression.” Instead, ask things.
“How are you doing?”
“Have you been sleeping/eating/getting out?”
“How do you feel?”
“What can I do for you?”
These are all examples of open ended questions you can ask the mama you’re worried about. After you ask them, really and truly LISTEN. Hear what she has to say. It’s possible she’s overjoyed and is just hormonal so happy people make her cry. It’s possible she’s getting no sleep but coping with that well. (That was me after Bear.) Listen to what she’s saying.
And listen to what she’s not saying. Body language doesn’t lie. Is she making eye contact? Is she crossing her arms, which means she’s closing herself off? Does she seem uneasy while telling you how she is?
Be aware of what she says and what she doesn’t say.
Know when to speak.
This one is tricky. You don’t want to cause discomfort for a mom but you also want to help. I get that. After asking her questions and listening to the answer, you may still be worried. That means it’s time to speak up. Speaking up and “confronting” her may feel terrifying. But it’s important to remember you are doing this out of love, not anger or judgment. (Go back to number three and make sure there’s no judgment!) Some ways you can openly ask her while not making her feel attacked:
“Hey, I noticed you haven’t been feeling great, have you talked to your midwife about it?”
“You seem really down lately. How can I help?”
“I’ve seen you struggling lately, do you think talking to someone would help? Can I help you find someone?”
Other mamas reading this-THIS is when you would speak up if you’ve been through it. There’s something so comforting in knowing we are not alone. The first time I shared about my personal struggle with PPD, I had a friend message me on Facebook. She was also struggling and felt empowered to talk about her emotions with her spouse because I had just shared mine. (If you ever wondered why I share so intimately and honestly about my mental health-this is why. Because no one should ever feel alone in it.)
Know when you need help.
A little rawness here, because what else am I ever, know when you need help. I share this not only in relation to maternal mental health, but all mental health. I’ve lost friends to suicide. A few. I’ve also been the person calling them, anxious that they are going to commit suicide. There have been days of my time I sat in emergency rooms with friends who didn’t want to be there, but I couldn’t convince them to be safe.
Know when you need to reach out to the family members, spouse, other friends for help. Talking about someone maliciously is never okay, but talking about someone to keep them safe. Be aware of your limits as a person.
I hope this helps sweet friends. Loving people who are struggling can be hard, but you wanting to help is such a blessing.