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It is estimated that one in ten women are affected by postnatal depression (PND) within the first year of giving birth1. The real figure is believed to be higher as some women delay seeking treatment as they don’t think the condition is serious enough to warrant professional help. Some consider PND to be less serious than other types of depression. However, it can have a serious impact on day-to-day life and for loved ones or carers, knowing what to say or do can be very difficult.
Women who are planning to fall pregnant or those who are already expecting should be aware of the symptoms, as a third of women who suffer from PND begin to experience symptoms during pregnancy2. Partners and friends should be aware of symptoms such as feelings of inadequacy, a persistent feeling of sadness, difficultly bonding with their baby and neglecting their own needs, as mild PND can be helped through the support of family and friends3. It is important to remember that the condition does not only affect women, with one in five men experiencing a depressive episode after becoming a dad4.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day on the 10th October 2018, Dr Mohammed Alsaidi, Consultant Psychiatrist and clinical expert at London Medical Concierge, gives his advice on what you can do to support a friend suffering from post-natal depression:
Do your own research
It can be challenging to offer support when you do not fully understand someone’s condition but taking some time out to do some research will really help you to gain a better understanding of what your friend is going through and knowing the symptoms can help you notice the signs. Sometimes your friend may not even realise that they are experiencing postnatal depression, or she may not want to accept that she is suffering from PND.
Offer practical support
PND can make even the smallest chores, such as laundry and preparing meals, feel near impossible but offering practical support to your friend could help to make each day a bit easier for them. For example, you could offer to do a school run or to do a food shop, which would allow your friend more time to care for and bond with her baby and focus on her own health and wellbeing.
Be patient and ready listen
PND can be a very difficult subject to talk about as some women may feel ashamed of their feelings. However, you shouldn’t expect your friend to talk about what they’re going through until they feel they’re ready to share. It is important to feel comfortable with silence, as they may not want to talk, but remember to listen to what your friend has to say when they do want to open up.
Try to avoid critical advice and comparing your experiences as this can result in making people feel worse. A small gesture such as a text every so often or a phone call can remind them that you’re there if they need help. Don’t allow yourself to grow frustrated if they repeatedly decline your help, recovery can take several months so you may need to offer support over a period of time.
Turn off the notifications
Getting out for some fresh air and a change of scenery can allow your friend to switch off from social media for a few hours. Mothers can be left with a feeling of inadequacy and isolation after comparing themselves to other mums on social media. You could suggest switching off notifications, unfollowing certain accounts that might cause feelings of anxiety or inadequacy or even deleting certain social media apps.
Encourage your friend to seek help and advice
Your friend may be cautious about getting help if they’re worried about people thinking they’re unable to cope, but reassure them that there is nothing to worry about. Your support can really help a friend, but it is important that they receive help from a professional also, to advise them on the best course of treatment. If they are struggling to find the time or courage to attend an appointment, you could suggest attending the appointment with them to find out what support is available. Information on PND symptoms and the support available can be found on the NHS website or through charities and support groups such as ‘Mothers for Mothers’ or apps to meet other mums like ‘Mush’.