Postpartum Support International has declared May to be National Maternal Depression Awareness Month. Has your partner or other loved one struggled with depression, either during pregnancy and/or right after giving birth?
Estimates are that 15-20% of women–that’s 1 in 8–have depression either while pregnant or postpartum. Despite such high numbers, many women do not get treatment because they may feel guilty that they are not happy during what society says should be a joyful time.
They may also not realize the symptoms they are experiencing are in fact depression, or may be waiting to see if they feel better after the baby is born, or once the baby has settled into a routine, etc. because what new mom (and dad!) isn’t tired, cranky, and overwhelmed when caring for a newborn?
The problem is, maternal depression is serious, and there is help out there that can make a tremendous difference quickly. Left untreated, your partner is at risk of developing severe depression or postpartum psychosis, which are mental health emergencies.
As a supportive partner, what do you need to know and what can you do to help?
- Symptoms can appear anytime within 12 months postpartum, and may not just be linked to depression. New moms can also develop obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder as well.
- Depression is different from “baby blues,” which up to 80% of new moms experience. “Baby blues” generally resolve on their own within 2-3 weeks of giving birth. Depression and anxiety that need treatment last much longer and have symptoms that are more severe.
- Encourage your partner to talk to her doctor and be honest about her feelings. It might be helpful to make a list of symptoms to bring to an appointment. If your partner’s doctor does not take your partner’s concerns seriously, consider seeking help from a mental health professional or a support group.
- Work with your partner to figure out how best to help. Some suggestions are to work out who will handle feedings, when each of you will have time to leave the house alone, who will handle household chores, who will attend to the needs of other people/pets at home, etc.
- Read this chapter from the book Beyond the Blues by Shoshana S. Bennett.
Resources on maternal depression
- Baby Center: Postpartum Depression
- Postpartum Depression: March of Dimes
- Mental Health and Pregnancy: What Partners Need to Know
- Post-Partum Depression: What’s Happening to My Partner?
- This Isn’t What I Expected