Listen and try to understand. It’s hard for someone who is depressed to explain how they feel.
Offer practical help. If a person isn’t sure what practical help they want offer alternatives or suggestions e.g. “I would like to help, can I cook a meal or take the older children out?” “The house looks fine but I know that you may not have the energy to do any housework, can I vacuum or hang out the washing or something?” (Don’t have your own agenda about what you think needs doing-do what she wants done!) Take over some regular jobs such as doing the washing or bathing the baby.
As part of being depressed, your partner will probably lose interest in sex. Be reassuring about this. Talk about it. It will pass. Make sure you still give her cuddles and kisses and tell her how much you love her. She needs your affection, even if she doesn’t reciprocate.
Help her to get out and have fresh air and exercise. She may not feel motivated to do so but will often feel better if they do.
Help get regular meals/snacks especially if breastfeeding
Help her to have time away from her baby doing something nice such as getting her hair done, having a massage but not doing the groceries
Arrange family/whanau for help and support. You may have to be specific about what sort of help you want such as, coming over and looking after the baby so that your partner can have a rest, have a shower, or take a walk. Ask them to do the shopping (give them a list), make a meal, do the washing, do some housework.
Remember some people are willing to help, but don’t know what they can do. They are happy to be told exactly what you want.
Tell your employer what is happening. Your partner may ring you frequently at work or even demand that you come home. It will help if your employer is understanding. Take some sick leave if you need it.
Take time to educate others about your partner’s illness. It will help them to be more supportive.
Take the time to go with your partner to her doctors appointments. Ask questions. Ask for information about PND. If you feel unhappy that the doctor is not listening, see someone else. One study found that 50% of men whose partners had PND found that health care professionals tended to minimise the problem and be reassuring. They felt that they were not taken seriously.
If your partner needs medication, try and be involved with this decision and be supportive. A mother will worry about taking medication and she will feel unsupported if you are negative and critical
Get support for yourself – it can be scary or depressing living with someone who is depressed.
What to say
When reassuring, be careful not to dismiss a persons concerns – rather than saying something isn’t a problem say “ I will be with you to help with that” or “ I can see that is really worrying you but I think we can get through that”.
Due to the indecisiveness of depression a person may need guidance and support with decision making. Sometimes you need to take responsibility and make the decision for them – this can be very hard to do. However, don’t jump in too quickly with what seems like an obvious solution; take the journey with the person to help find the solution.
Encourage her, tell her that she will get back to her “old self”. It will take time.
Be positive about her accomplishments no matter how small things such as hanging out the washing or managing to have a shower.
Offer ‘space’ if that is wanted.
What not to do
- Avoid judging or getting angry – it’s no ones fault.
- Don’t tell her that she is lazy or a poor mother. Be positive about her ability as a mother.
- Don’t be critical of her or compare her to other mothers.
- Don’t be upset when she is negative and grumpy. Remember she is unwell and will get better.
- Don’t make any major decisions or take on new projects, such as shifting house or starting a new job.
- Your partner is unwell and may say things that she does not truly believe. This is part of her illness.Don’t take what she says personally.
- You can’t make her better. By listening to her and being supportive, you will be helping her.
- If your partner needs hospital admission – remember it will be best for mother and baby – be supportive.
- It will be hard for her to believe that she will ever feel better and be a good mother. She will get better but it will take time.
“She got to the stage where she was doing the bare minimum for Ryan and probably doing even less than that for herself and I’d rank probably way down the line. I was working and taking time off from work as she wasn’t coping and the daily routine for me was that I would go to work, come back and do everything that hadn’t been done during the day. As soon as I walked in the door she basically turned off the key to herself and the kids and handed over to me”.
How to help yourself
You will be feeling confused, tired, and worried about your partner and baby. You have a higher risk of becoming depressed or getting anxiety symptoms during this stressful time. You will have high demands of your time. You may be working and trying to do extra tasks around the home, as well as trying to support your partner and baby.
You may feel a loss of your own supports, such as going out for a drink with your friends. You may not be able to play sport. You may not be available to entertain or travel as usual for your work.
You may find it hard to discuss what is happening to friends and family. Your partner may want to “keep it secret”.
It is important to look after yourself by;
- Getting extra help.
- Telling others what is happening.
- Telling others how it is for you.
- Watch your alcohol and drug inkake It is very easy at this stressful time to find refuge in alcohol and drugs which can lead onto other problems
- Negioate specfic times to have time out for yourself
- If you feel overwhelmed, see your own doctor and tell him/her how you are.
“It took a long time for Ruth to acknowledge she needed help – well, she probably knew something was wrong but didn’t have the motivation or couldn’t face up to it and things got really bad with us. We got to the point where we were heading in the wrong direction and were very close to separating. I knew that this wasn’t us but I didn’t recognise depression. It was a big weight off my shoulders when she was diagnosed – that she wasn’t going crazy. That it wasn’t our marriage but it was something that we could resolve”.
Warning signs to watch for
You will be worried about your partner and baby. Trust your own instincts if you feel that she may be a danger to herself or the baby. Get help urgently
Some early warnings can be:
- Talking about harming herself or the baby.
- Severe changes in mood.
- Very unusual behaviour that is out of character.
- Bizarre thoughts, risk taking behaviour.
- Morbid thoughts, “you would be better off without me”.
- Extreme despair.
- Disordered thoughts.
If your partner has any of these symptoms, she needs urgent help from your doctor or the Emergency Psychiatric Service (number in the front of the white pages under Mental Health Services).
Planning for the future
Try and remain positive that your partner will return to her normal self and that you will all enjoy a happy family life together.
PND can return in future pregnancies. Your doctor will discuss this with you. Treatment may be useful in pregnancy or immediately after delivery to help prevent problems.
“We’re OK now and we look back at it now as our year from hell. It was a major relationship challenge but we’re in it together – it tested us and we almost lost it.