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How We Can Better Support Mothers With Postpartum Depression

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We grow from what we know. It’s a fact that’s followed us all our lives. From the importance of looking both ways before crossing the street, to why we should never talk to strangers and even learning about the birds and the bees for the first time; every piece of knowledge shapes us into who we are.

We all grow into different people though. Some life experiences are universal and most share them like falling in love or insisting on patting every dog we see (OK, maybe that second one is just me), but because we all follow our own paths, the ways we grow and learn change. The things we need to know are different. As a result, often when something doesn’t directly relate to us, we’ll tune it out.

But I ask you this in all sincerity — if something directly impacts your friends would you want to know about it? Even if it didn’t affect you in the slightest? Would you care, for their sake?

I’d like to think you would. In fact, I’m almost certain you would. I’ve seen it in action. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with a medical condition called gastroparesis; simply put my stomach paralyzed itself. It wasn’t something me, my family or my friends knew anything about. It wasn’t exactly common conversation for a bunch of year 12’s staring down the final few months of their high school careers. What followed was all of us doing a lot of googling. I told my friends things doctors told me and we did our own research to find out more about what I was dealing with. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it meant to me that my friends cared enough to educate themselves so they could support me. It’s not something I took lightly at the time and still don’t all these years later.

My point here is quite simple and can be summed up as the following: leaning in to check on your friends can change their lives. Especially when it concerns something that isn’t immediately obvious, or we don’t understand.

Postpartum depression affects up to one in five women. That means one in five new mothers are anxious, depressed and are struggling to deal with these feelings. Although the most important thing is encouraging mothers to get help, we as their friends and support networks also have a vital role to play in their recovery.

Studies have found that a lack of social support has been linked to mothers experiencing depressive symptoms. As with any mental illness, however, there is more than one key influencing factor. But these studies support the idea that leaning on social networks can and has made a difference to mothers dealing with postpartum depression.

In general, there are three common types of support given:

  • Informational support, which can include advice
  • Instrumental support, which can include practical support such as helping with tasks or providing supplies for both the mother and baby
  • Emotional support, which can include being an outlet for mothers and their feelings and showing care and concern for their wellbeing

It’s pretty safe to say we all unknowingly practice these support types in our everyday lives, but we can’t effectively support mothers if we don’t understand their situation. If we know nothing about postpartum depression and can’t recognize the symptoms, we’ll never be able to provide the support struggling mothers need.

Too often we fall into the trap of thinking that if someone is struggling, they’ll reach out to us for help. This is absolutely not always the case. Postnatal depression can be incredibly difficult to deal with and is often isolating. Many new mothers have discussed feelings of guilt linked to their depression, which made it harder for them to speak out and get help.

We as their friends and key support networks need to lean in.

We may not be responsible for their feelings, but we can be a part of helping them cope and recover. This is not something we can tune out because it doesn’t affect us — the reality is it affects so many of the women around us, but we often don’t see it. We have the power to do more and do better. Educating ourselves is the first step we can take to help support our friends when they need it. So much information about postpartum depression is targeted towards mothers themselves and often isn’t directed to the people around them. But the truth is, it’s just as important for us to know and understand this as it is for them.

It isn’t going to happen overnight and it definitely won’t be easy, but raising awareness and having open, honest conversations can make a difference. We need to be more proactive in the way we support new mothers by first educating ourselves so we can be there when they need us most.

We all know the saying “it takes a village,” but raising a child should only be part of the equation – it’s time for the conversation to shift and start openly talking about how we can take care of mothers too.

Everyone responds to mental health challenges differently, and as a result the kind of support they want or need changes too. Some people readily talk about their challenges and some struggle silently. However they choose to cope, it’s worth educating ourselves so that if (or when) a conversation arises we can actively take part in it and be someone our friends can lean on.

So do a little research. Read some articles and listen to your friends when they talk. This isn’t something mums should deal with alone and we have the ability to help them through it if we know enough to keep an eye out.

You know your friends better than I do. You know their mannerisms and you have a general idea of how they respond to stress or challenges. So whatever the case may be, I can tell you this much: having the knowledge and not needing it is a much better scenario than needing the knowledge to support your friend and not having it.

Getty image by x-reflexnaja

Originally published: May 30, 2020
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