Not the Baby Blues

baby feetToday there is a lot of conversation about post partum depression. Recognizing that this depression is different from the “baby blues” which about 80% of women experience according to the American College of Obstetricians’ and Gynecologists, is just the beginning of dealing with this illness.   People need to learn what not to say as well as what to say to make the person suffering feel that there is hope for change and health.

First of all, post partum depression does not happen to everyone. It is NOT the baby blues.  It is a serious mental illness that, if left untreated, can cause much damage not only to the mother but also to the baby and the family.  Often we approach this illness with the words, “if you did this, you’d feel better.”  Doesn’t work.  It puts more pressure on the person experiencing the depression to feel guilty for not doing more or at least doing what you suggest.

Another thing to avoid is the reference to the fact that you skipped post partum by being too busy with the baby or you remind the person of the fact is that this baby was always something the depressed person wanted, so why the unhappiness? Depression is NOT a result of not being busy enough or deciding you didn’t want the baby in the first place.  Depression just happens.  Saying these or other similar things only lays more guilt on someone who is already feeling guilty that they are not doing enough for their child or being as happy as the rest of the world tells them they should be

The worse possible thing you could say is that the depressed person doesn’t need medication. Granted in some instances, medication is not necessary; however, in most post partum situations, medication is needed and is often short term.  Medication helps people to get better.

Now that you know what not to do, let’s look at some positives.

We’ve heard it many times before. There are ways to listen and often we don’t listen to those suggestions because we think they are silly.  They are not.  People suffering from post partum depression rarely know what they want, but they do want to be listened to.  So listen actively by putting the “I” into whatever statement you are going to make.  “I feel frustrated when I don’t feel heard,” avoids the guilt of a similar statement which might be “I get so angry when you don’t listen to me.”  Which one would you prefer?  So imagine if you were depressed?  Yes, the “I” statements win hands down.   A simple but effective listening technique.

Be sure an avoid open ended offers of help.  Offer instead to come and take care of the baby at a certain time, to go to the store, mow the lawn – whatever – just make it specific.  Remind the person that what they are experiencing are symptoms.  It is NOT who they are.  And it doesn’t hurt to point out to them that you realize how much they are trying. They need to know that others see how hard they are fighting this illness.  And something we always don’t think about – give the person with post partum permission to get away for a time each day. Give them the space they need to recharge and enter into life again.

Taking care of someone with post partum depression is a hard job. If you are a member of the family, there is no time you are off duty.  The job is tiring, messy, frustrating, unappreciated.  But this is a job so necessary for healing. And assure the person with post partum depression that you are here for them for as long as it takes.

And most of all remember to take care of yourself if you are helping someone with post partum depression. Depression is insidious and creeps in whenever we neglect that most important tenant of all:  self care is important for our well being and for our ability to help others in a positive manner.

– Bernadette

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4 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. Know that it is helping somebody (probably many somebodies)!

  2. I mean… I’m 16 and can’t relate to this at all; but it’s inspiring to see how much you care and it’s clear that you’re taking an initiative to change people’s perspectives on mental illness. Go you!

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