Support for the supporters…
Any postpartum mom knows that support is helpful. Any postpartum mom who has suffered from depression, anxiety, bipolar, ocd, ptsd or psychosis knows support is life saving. But how do you support a mom in need? (Or anyone for that matter…this month just happens to be maternal mental health month but dads/partners can get PMADs too and need support if they do). Where do you turn if your wife, girlfriend, mom, sister, daughter, relative or friend are suffering? How do you help?
1- Just be there. Moms suffering from PMADs feel alone most of the time. Alone inside their own heads and emotions. They believe they are the only ones feeling this way and the only ones unable to handle things. They are isolated and tired. They need you to just be there. Be another adult so they are not alone with no one to talk to who can talk back.
2- Think of something you can do and do it. When a mom is suffering from PMADs it can be very difficult to think and make decisions. They may have used much of their energy and mental strength to just get up out of bed. Being unable to think clearly is a side effect of sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety and other symptoms of PMADs. A mom also may feel ashamed of needing help or of her current limitations. So, rather then asking “what can I do?” just think of something and offer it or do it. If you are there already, wash dishes, pick up toys or fold laundry. If you are not there, bring over food or coffee and spend some time visiting. Tell her that what you are doing is nothing compared with what she does everyday and that you enjoy visiting with her. Then ask if you can hold the baby while she does something for herself (even if it’s just to use the bathroom, take a shower, change clothes or step outside by herself for a couple minutes). If she can’t think of what to do, make a suggestion. Help her think about herself.
3- Encourage her to get fresh air. Offer to go for a walk together. Or encourage her to step outside by herself, even just to get the mail or walk in the backyard. Fresh air and sunshine (when you can get it) can do wonders for mood, and thought process.
4- Reassure her. Tell her that she isn’t going to feel this way forever. Tell her there is help (and encourage her to get it) and tell her that she is doing a good job. Point out how her baby is thriving and happy. It is difficult for moms suffering from PMADs to notice or appreciate the good they are doing for their baby.
5- Educate yourself. There are many wonderful resources available for partners, dads and supporters of moms with PMADs. Websites such as postpartum.net have entire areas of their work dedicated to helping those who support women suffering from PMADs. There are podcasts you can listen to and books you can read. Even a non-factual book such as Down Came the Rain by: Brooke Sheilds can be enlightening to family and friends of someone suffering. And remember…not everything you learn is applicable to the mom you are supporting. Not all moms experience PMADs the same but education can help you feel more equipped to support her.
These suggestions are just some starting points. There are many ways to support a mom whether she is experiencing a PMAD or not. If a mom seems to be carrying a conversation well enough, ask her “how can I help?” and hope she will let you.