My friend recently sent me a popular article from Huffington Post on this very topic. She asked me what I thought about it and really, it was right on. I wanted to share my commentary on two points as to why I think you should NEVER say these things. All of this from someone who lived it. With no further adieu, these are the top two things not to ever say to someone with postpartum depression.
Go for A Walk And Other “Remedies”
This is perhaps the mother of all things not to say to someone with postpartum. It’s number one by a long shot. Any remedy someone offers whether it be an activity or hobby they should try or pick up again as a cure for postpartum is a nice thought from someone who, to be fair, doesn’t understand. HOWEVER, saying that someone should just get a book and read it under the tree to set them on the right path back to their “normal” is saying that the affected person’s condition isn’t really a condition at all. It implies it’s a “bad day” sort of sadness we all have where an ice cream cone might cheer us up. Ideas like this are an all out denial that PPD is a medical and physiological condition. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t tell your best friend to go for a jog to treat strep throat. Why? Because strep is an illness that needs medical attention. You can’t run off strep and you can’t read/shop/relax PPD away. If those things healed conditions solely, we would rarely need insurance.
Not only is this statement entirely unhelpful AND uneffective in the ultimate answer for PPD, it also makes someone suffering feel very alone. You already feel helpless and alone and hearing from loved ones and friends advice like this makes you panic and realize, “I really am alone. No one really understands. No one can help me.” Typically, this makes a person worse in the end. I remember those feelings well.
DON’T SAY THIS TO ANYONE!
You don’t need medicine.
Of all the things NOT to say, this is probably the most dangerous thing loved ones say to their friends/family. Not only does someone often end up taking medication, it can be dangerous to the mother’s well being and sometimes the child’s well being that the mother not be treated with medicine. No one should be crippled in a bad state because medicine is frowned upon.
I think most people who love someone with PPD feel uncomfortable with medicine and feel that their loved one will/should/can pull themselves up by their bootstraps or that it will pass. One of the distinctions of PPD and baby blues is that it requires attention and won’t just pass. Although some women struggle unimaginable amounts of time without treatment and eventually come back to themselves, that is typically not how it happens for the average PPD sufferer.
The best thing you can do as a person outside of the situation is to SUPPORT whatever measures the sufferer feels is what they need to do. They want to quit breastfeeding? “Great. I’m proud of you for doing the best thing for you and your baby to BOTH be happy and comfortable.” They want to take more time off work? “I think that is a good idea and that you need to take care of yourself first as a priority.” They want to get medicine? “You are smart to take care of this and get control of it so it can’t control you. I think you are doing the right thing.”
Remember, a doctor is going to sign off on this decision based on their expertise so leave the prescribing to the doctor and all the support you can give to the individual’s and doctor’s choice, the better. A woman with PPD feels very hopeless and unsure, help be her confidence. You cannot support her enough. Spur her on to take measures to get well.
When I had postpartum I/This person I know went through the same thing and…
Now this can be good or bad. In a way, it’s great having someone to relate to. I talked to someone I had never met before who lived in another state just to be helped through by someone who went before me in postpartum. This can be priceless and extremely helpful BUT whether you have had postpartum depression yourself or you are just sharing stories of others, choose with caution the details you share.
For me personally, I had compulsive anxious thoughts that tormented me. To a mom struggling with the anxious facet of PPD, the last thing we/they need are any more ideas or dysfunctional stories to flood their spinning minds with. Be careful on what you share with someone who is struggling with depression/anxiety. It’s easy for someone in this position to latch on to thoughts or troubling details and they just won’t be able to shake them.
Truly, in any conversation with anyone on any day, we should patrol the details and stories we share of tragic local events, news stories, etc. We are a society that loves shock value but disturbing, perpetually sad news or tragedies aren’t ever things we need in our minds all the time. This is especially true for the person who is already very anxious or troubled with PPD. Don’t give them more negative things to fill their mind with because it will be hard for them to forget. I am very cautious when I talk to someone with PPD not to over share specific thoughts I had during that time for this very reason.
What Should You Say To Someone With Postpartum
The blog I mentioned above followed up what not to say with what to say to someone with postpartum depression. I’m going to diverge here from the points she made and say something specific that I think encourages anyone with PPD. No matter what types of struggle a woman is having while postpartum, one thing that is pretty universal is guilt. We all have mother’s guilt even on normal days, right? Imagine bringing home a new baby and while everyone is drooling over your new precious baby, you can’t find much joy. Not only can you not find joy, you feel down right hopeless and at the end of those thoughts, you feel guilty for every off beat feeling you have. You feel worthless and like a failure. You aren’t able to do anything, get anything done, and your life is consumed by the one thing that is the source of your depression: the changes of a new baby.
The best thing someone told me who just so happened to have walked in PPD shoes was this:
“You may not feel like you are doing anything special and that you are failing your baby but you are doing an excellent job. You are doing everything your baby needs. She/he needs to be feed, changed, and held and if that’s all you get done in a day, you are doing absolutely everything that baby needs. You ARE doing it. You are giving your baby the care he/she needs.”
That may not seem powerful to you but I assure you it is. It takes the sense of mother’s guilt you have and flips it on its head. Emotionally you feel like a failure but with that statement, you realize that what you feel in emotion is not the same as what you carrying out in practice. Inspite of your feelings, if you are doing the most basic things for your baby: holding, feeding, changing, etc. You have done exactly what is needed and you are successful. You are a good mom. You are taking care of your baby and not only that, you are doing it in the face of a great obstacle which makes it more impressive than someone who isn’t struggling at all.
Anything you can do to point to real life examples of the care and success they are providing their child, even if they have to seek someone else to do the majority of the caring, show them that they are making sure that they are doing what it takes and remind them of the value of that.
Send a pizza to their house. Leave a gift on their doorstep or a frozen meal with a note and send them a message or text to check their front step. Tell them that there is no need to respond or send a thank you…not even a thank you text. Give them the freedom to have one less thing to worry about or feel like they need to do in this extremely overwhelming time. Offer to come sit with them IF that makes them feel less anxious. For me I needed to be around people but sometimes, the thought of even someone I loved visiting made me anxious so really feel them and their spouse out for what is best there.
Take their other children for a while if they have more kids. Let them catch a nap.
My best advice is to be supportive and practical. Support the steps they need to take to get better. Show your love by acts of service that are helpful in their case and remind them that this will pass and sit with them in whatever ways you can through the muddy waters. Tell them they are a good mother and how you can see that in them.
Hope this is helpful to someone :0)
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