8 first steps to take if you think you have postnatal depression
I was diagnosed with postnatal depression six months after having a baby.
It took this long because I didn’t open up about it until this point; during a chance phone call with my health visitor when everything came spilling out all at once.
I had been suffering in silence for every month before that point, feeling low, like a failure of a mother, and scared that if I told anyone, my baby would be taken away from me.
A year on from giving birth, and six months on from first opening up about my PND, everything has changed for me. I still struggle, but a lot less. I have moved house, I have been getting help, and I have support around me. I’m very lucky to not be in that dark place that I was back then.
But, back then, I didn’t think any of this was possible.
I thought that emptiness, that hollow shell of a person that I was, was a forever-thing. But it wasn’t.
And it doesn’t have to be for you, either.
Here, for InSpire the Mind, I thought I’d write about PND and about how you can seek help and do things to change the scenery. I’m not saying these steps are going to cure you; but they can be important steps of recovery, things that I myself am still practicing today.
So here goes.
Admit what you’re going through
This is the first but possibly the hardest step to take when you’re living with postnatal depression. Admitting what you’re going through. It can be incredibly scary and for many reasons — one that’s not unheard of (in fact, I’ve seen it said loads on my support groups), is because you think that postnatal depression means that your baby will be taken away from you. This is almost completely never the case. Admitting what you’re going through can be hard, but it is the first step to recovery, the first step to releasing what you’ve been holding in for so long. Make sure that you sit down with someone that you trust, who can hold your hand and be a shoulder to cry on. Make sure that you’re in a safe environment. If it helps, maybe even write a letter to yourself or someone else — to explain everything you’re feeling. It can help you with clarity and with putting all of your words together.
Make sure your health visitor is aware
This is the next scary step. Telling your health visitor. Health visitors are trained to pick up on illnesses such as postnatal depression so it may be that what you tell them doesn’t come as such a surprise. If you don’t feel comfortable telling your health visitor on your own, have someone you trust to do it with you, who can help you express what you need to get across for the right help.
Find something to help you to release your emotions
For me, I use writing as a way to channel my emotions. I find it therapeutic and when I’m not doing it for work, I’m doing it for pleasure. Find something that makes you feel the same — whether that’s a walk or journaling or baking or pottery. Find something that encourages you to take a breather from being a mum, something else to fall in love with that is just for you. It can give you some normality back.
Join a support group
Whether this is in-person or online, support groups can be very beneficial for your mental health. Not just because you’re going somewhere that gets what you’re going through, but because you’ll meet lots of other mothers going through a similar thing. Making mum friends can be hard when you have PND, because often you just want to stay in the house. But meeting like-minded people can do wonders for your mental health — especially if they’re outside the house, as it gives you an opportunity for sunlight and fresh air.
Take each day step by step
Don’t go in headfirst to try to ‘cure’ yourself. Recovery isn’t linear and that’s okay. If you don’t feel up to doing something one day, don’t push yourself too much — there’s always tomorrow. What you don’t want to do is fall into the guilt trap when you have nothing to feel guilty for. We do enough of that to ourselves already. So take things day by day and challenge yourself when you feel up to it. You could set yourself small daily tasks which will make things seem easier and more bearable — for instance, get up and change the bedsheets. Have a shower. Put a little bit of makeup on. Brush your hair. Go for a walk with your baby. Meet up with a friend. Have a phone call with a friend. The options are endless and there’s no rush to do them all at once — or at all on your bad days.
Be kind to yourself
Remember that you are a new mum. You are vulnerable enough as it is without the added illness of postnatal depression. And you’re doing a great job. Don’t fall into the trap of the mum guilt if you don’t do something you had planned to do — or if one day, all you want to do is watch movies under the covers with your baby. Be kind to yourself and remember that you are doing what you can for your baby and for yourself — and that is something that should be commended.
Go with what your health professionals tell you — but stick to your gut
After being diagnosed with postnatal depression, the medication I was already on for bipolar disorder changed, and more was added to the list. This was a conscious choice and one that I spoke through with both my perinatal psychiatrist (who I had been admitted to at the start of my pregnancy due to having bipolar), and my health visitor. I’m still awaiting any form of therapy or other treatment. But it’s something I’d like to do.
But if medication isn’t for you, then keep talking with your doctor until you agree a plan of action you are happy with. Listen to the information provided, but do your research, and if something doesn’t feel right, remember that you are not being forced into doing anything. Ask about your options, talk them through, and let your health professionals guide you — but absolutely do not let them tell you. And do not ignore them either. Keep talking to them.
Remember that postnatal depression does not make you a bad mother
Postnatal depression doesn’t ever, and will never, make you a bad mother. We seem to forget that postnatal depression is an illness, and one that can be treated, and one that can be recovered from — just like a physical illness. We wouldn’t tell ourselves that a broken leg makes us bad mums, would we? So show yourself that same kindness and recovery time when it comes to postnatal depression. Remember that you are loved and that you deserve support as much as the next person. Make sure you’re open with your feelings, that you have someone you are able to talk to, and that you continuously check in with your health visitor. Nobody thinks you’re a bad mum. You’re a mum who’s struggling, and who needs support. Recognising that makes you a great one.
If you need to talk privately and confidentially and don’t feel ready yet to talk to your GP or your health visitor, Samaritans are available 24/7 for free, on 116 123. Don’t suffer in silence.