How to Help Your Partner Cope with a Postpartum Mood Disorder
By Erin McKinney, MSW, LICSW
Originally posted in the July 2014 Newsletter of PSI of Washington
Husbands and partners are important to the recovery process for women suffering from postpartum mood disorders. Research suggests that consistent support from a significant other will greatly reduce depressive symptoms. However, dealing with a postpartum mood disorder is very demanding for everyone involved and husbands and partners, in particular, who experience suffering when their wives or partners are sick. It can be difficult to know what to do or say. I have compiled some useful suggestions:
What to say:
- I know you feel terrible.
- You will get better.
- This is temporary.
- We will get through this together.
- You are doing all the right things to get better (therapy, medication etc.)
- You can be a good mother AND feel terrible.
- This is not your fault.
- You will be yourself again.
- I will stand by you through this. I won’t leave you.
- It’s OK to make mistakes. You do not have to do everything perfectly.
- I know how hard you are working right now.
- You can ask for my help. If there is something you need, please tell me.
- I know you are doing your best.
- I love you.
- I love our family, our children, the baby and they love you too.
- Our baby is fine.
What not to say:
- Get over it.
- Pull yourself together.
- Snap out of it.
- Think Positively
If she could get over it, pull herself together or snap out of it, she would have already done it. This is an illness that needs professional attention.
- This should be the happiest time of your life.
- Think of all of the things you have to feel happy about.
- You should be happy to have a baby.
She already knows all the things she has to be happy about.. This is one of the reasons she feels so guilty. She is depressed despite these things.
Overlooking the issue
- Since you wanted a baby, this is what you have to go through.
- All new mothers feel this way.
- You are strong enough to get through this on your own and you don’t need help.
While the baby blues affect approximately 60 to 80% of new mothers and lasts no more than 2 days to 2 weeks, it is estimated that 20% of new mothers will experience a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Untreated, postpartum mood or anxiety disorders can have significant risks for the mother, her child(ren) and her partner.
- You would feel better if only: you were working, not working, got out of the house more, stayed at home more etc…
- You should lose weight, color your hair, buy new clothes, etc.
Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are biochemical disorders that require adequate treatment. Providing this type of feedback could cause her to feel more depressed and anxious.
Practical things you can do to help:
- Help around the house.
- Set limits with family and friends
- Accompany her to doctor appointments.
- Call her from work to check in.
- Look in her eyes when she talks to you.
- Intervene so she can get uninterrupted sleep.
- Listen to her.
- Be patient
Things to keep in mind:
- You didn’t cause her illness.
- You cannot fix her and she does not expect you to.
- Do not take it personally.
- There will be good days and bad days.
Things to do to take care of yourself:
- Take time to learn all you can about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, in order to understand why she is experiencing it and what behaviors are associated with it. The more you understand postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, the more supportive you will be.
- Take time for yourself to recharge.
- Elicit the help of a friend or family member to take the kids for a couple of hours each week to give you and your partner time together.
- Seek professional support or join a support group.
Erin McKinney is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She provides supportive counseling to children, adolescents and adults, with a focus on perinatal and child mental health.
Bennett, Shoshana PhD & Indman, Pec, EdD, MFT, Beyond the Blues, Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (2010)