How It Is #3: What to Say to Someone with Postnatal Depression


What to say to someone with postnatal / postpartum depression |

The numbers are clear.  If you know a few parents, you know someone who’s had postnatal depression, whether they blogged about it or not.

In response to my posts about my experiences, here and here, I’ve discovered half a dozen of my friends have been through it recently, and another few a long time ago.

"Under the horse chestnut tree", 1 p...

So going on the twin assumptions that a) there’s a good chance your friends with a newborn are struggling and b) there’s a good chance they won’t volunteer that they’re struggling, here are seven helpful things to say to new parents if you want to offer tangible support.

The mum is more likely to have the depression itself, but her partner has to carry a whopping burden if she does, so these are things to say to all caregivers involved in the life of a new baby.  And anyone else you want to show your friendship to.

  1. ‘I really enjoy doing dishes/playing with toddlers/mowing lawns.  Can I please do these/take her to the playground/come around on Wednesday to do yours?’
    Be specific in your offers of help.  If you just say, ‘What can I do?’ you’re more likely to be turned down out of misguided politeness.
  2. ‘Can I take the baby out for a walk for an hour or two while you catch up on sleep?’
    Sleep deprivation is a huge component of depression and is tough for any parent, however well they are feeling.
  3. If you know you are a good listener and are ready to hear whatever comes:
    ‘If you’d ever like to talk about how things are going, I’m here to listen.’
  4. Ditto:
    ‘Is motherhood/fatherhood turning out how you expected?’
  5. ‘I’d like to bring a meal around so you don’t have to cook.  Should it be for the freezer, or for tonight?’
  6. If you have the capacity to make this offer:
    ‘A new baby can be hard work.  You can call me anytime of the day or night.  You are not alone in this.’
  7. ‘You guys are used to being pretty on top of things. You don’t have to be, though, with us. You can always come to us on a bad day.’

Arohanui to the real-life people who said versions of these to us in the early weeks, and to the many other people who offered their kindnesses.

If you’ve ever had periods of illness, grief or vulnerability, you’ll probably have ideas too.  What are the most helpful things people said to you, or you wish they’d said?

If you’ve found this post helpful, please feel free to share it around.

You can follow Sacraparental on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter (you won’t regret it!)

You might also be interested in these related posts:

Other posts in this series on my experience of postnatal depression

How to support someone with postnatal depression: 13 ideas

Kathryn’s story of postnatal depression

Jenn’s story of PTSD and childbirth

A step-by-step guide to getting more rest

Tips for becoming a great listener

A post on living in the gap between our expectations and the reality of parenthood

What to say to someone with postnatal / postpartum depression |

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11 comments on “How It Is #3: What to Say to Someone with Postnatal Depression”

  1. Angela Reply

    #5 is beautifully worded. Nothing like receiving a meal at 4pm and being told it should really not be put in the freezer! The biggest thing that comes to mind for me is not to promise you will do something and not follow through with it. And actually another that comes to mind is something I learnt regarding giving items to the poor – but it can apply in these kinds of situations too – whatever you are giving, give your very best, someone who is walking very close to the edge may be tipped right over the edge if they’re made to feel like a charity case.

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  9. Ann Reply

    Hi Thalia, this is a beautiful post. All of these points would make a world of difference to someone with PND. I might add: “Can I look after the baby while you have a shower/paint your nails/etc?”
    Ann recently posted…What the F(ish)?My Profile

  10. Natasha Reply

    Thank you so much for giving yourself so generously through this series and your website in general. You’ve given me wisdom and comfort.

    I’ve had PNA with both my daughters (currently on meds as my second is only 10 months) and we’ve had all of the above offered to us, but I really struggle with offers to ‘take the baby while you sleep/go out/etc’. This always caused my anxiety to increase and my insomnia to come back. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Help with everything that prevented me from just being with my daughters was great, but so many friends and family members wanted to take the girls away from me. Such an offer is a lifeline to many but can trigger further anxiety and depression in others, and so it’s not easy to always gauge what help should be given!

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