It is hard to watch the ones we love in pain, isn’t it? When a loved one is hurt, physically hurt, sometimes there is nothing we can do but more often than not there are practical steps we can take to help them to feel better. If your baby is teething you can give them some calpol to ease their pain, if your toddler has cut their knee you can clean it up, pop on a plaster and seal it with a magical mummy kiss. When someone we care about is struggling with their mental health, when they are in pain but we can not see the cause, it can be really hard to know how to help them. Post natal depression is awful, in fact, it’s agonising. When you want nothing more than to be happy and enjoy your baby but your brain has other ideas? Well, it is a really painful time for mums but also for their family too. If you have a wife, sister, friend (or any other mum in your life) that is having mental health struggles , here is a list of things you can do to help a mum struggling with post natal depression. These things are simple yet effective and it is often the smallest things that can help mums going through depression the most.
How to help a mum struggling with post natal depression
1.Ask her how she is doing – Obviously you will want to know how baby is doing but ask mum how she is first. After having all of the attention during pregnancy, once a baby comes along it can sometimes feel like friends and family don’t care about you anymore and all they want to hear about is your baby. Ask her how she is, and if she just says ‘ok’, let her know that you understand that motherhood is hard and you are always there to listen if she needs to talk.
2.Let her nap – Being depressed is exhausting, extra exhausting if your baby isn’t letting you sleep, Mums suffering with post natal depression can often feel like they are carrying the whole weight of the world on their shoulders, they are lugging around a tonne of mum guilt and the adrenaline crash from dealing with anxious thoughts for hours can leave them feeling completely run down and in a very dark place. When you can, let her nap. Tell her you will watch the baby for an hour while she sleeps, that 60 minutes of rest could make so much difference to her day. Naps are essentially for all sleep deprived new mums, those suffering with PND or not, but when you are fighting an energy sapping mental illness, grabbing some extra sleep has never been more important.
3.Invite her out – Yes, naps are great mood boosting tools but nothing can beat the fresh air when it comes to making you feel better. A mum suffering with anxiety may be too afraid to leave the house with her baby, she may be constantly thinking ‘what if’ and picturing all the worst case scenarios that could happen on a trip to the park with her newborn. Depression can rob you of your energy, motivation and desire to do anything other than curl up under a blanket and cry when really the best thing you could do is get outside, breathe fresh air and stop staring at the same four walls. A no pressure invite for a walk or a trip for a coffee may be the gentle nudge a mum needs to get out of the house on a really bad day and help to make her feel happier. Don’t exclude a mum friend from days out or meets up, she might not always say yes but to know you are thinking of her will mean so much.
4.Listen to her – Admitting to even the people we are closest to that we are struggling with mental health issues is hard, really hard. If your loved one does manage to find the words and speak out about how she is feeling then make sure you listen to her – I mean, really listen. It will have taken a lot of courage for her to reveal she has post natal depression and you need to respect how difficult it must be for her by lending a completely non-judgemental and supportive ear, as well as a shoulder for her to cry on, if she wants to. Whether it is in the dead of night when anxious thoughts are keeping her awake or at 7am when the thought of the day ahead of her fills her with dread, listen to what she has to say, most of the time she will just need to offload and to know that you are there for her and that you are so proud of her.
5. Support her – Recovering from post natal depression can take months (sometimes years) and mums can face lots of relapses and difficult stages before their mental health is back to the place it used to be. Just be there for her, that’s the most important thing. Hug her when she is down, tell her how much you love her, tell her how much of an amazing mum she is and treat her like a wife/sister/friend. don’t just see her as X’s mum now. Motherhood can result in many women feeling like they have lost their identity and that they are not important anymore, show her how much you still care about her and how important she is to you. If she needs to go talk to a doctor/counsellor/health visitor, offer to look after the baby or go along with her if she wants you to. Don’t smother her or patronise her, just let her know you are there and are more than happy to help in anyway you can.
6. Cook for her – When you have reached a point where you don’t feel like you matter anymore, like you are the least important person in the world, making sure you are eating enough can sometimes be the last thing on your mind. Cook a meal for her, do the food shop instead of her having to do it whilst dealing with a screaming baby, surprise her with a take away; make sure she is not neglecting one of her most basic and essential needs. If she is always eating half a piece of toast and drinking luke warm tea, offer to hold the baby for her so she can finish a hot meal for once. The term ‘self care’ doesn’t mean bubble baths and candles, it means looking after yourself and for people with depression, even running a brush through their hair in the morning can seem completely pointless and too difficult, so cooking a healthy dinner can appear as a task far too great to manage.
7. Give her time to herself – Look after the baby so she can do something she loves, something she enjoyed before the depression sank in. An hour with a book, a couple hours watching a film or a baby free trip to the shops, they may seem like little things but those small breaks away from just being mum can really help. Make sure she knows that me time isn’t selfish, she is not being a bad mum by taking some time out for herself. We all deserve a break sometimes and a couple of hours child free can be like taking a miracle medicine, you can be left feeling reenergised and lighter on your feet.
8. Let her cry – If she needs to, or even if she just can’t help it, let her cry. Don’t tell her to cheer up or snap out of it, just hold her close and tell her how much she is loved. Don’t make her feel embarrassed, don’t judge her or tell her she should be happy or that she has no reason to be depressed. Depression is complicated and there isn’t always a reason, the tears can’t always be explained. If she cries in front of you, let her know it’s ok that she feels this way and a time will come when doesn’t.
Finally, remind her of these three things..
She is a good mum,
She does matter,
It’s ok not to be ok
If you know someone struggling with post natal depression and you are feeling helpless, I hope after reading this you see that there are actually lots of things you can do to make the person you love feel better. The road to recovery can be long and challenging for mums with post natal depression but even the smallest of gestures and moments of kindness can make the journey back to happiness that little bit easier.
If you feel like you may be suffering with post natal depression here is a list of resources and charities that can help and support you.
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