After battling and surviving postpartum depression, I have received the following question repeatedly: “Jen, I think my friend might be going through something like what you went through. I want to say something to her about it, but I don’t want to upset her. How do I bring up that she isn’t acting like herself lately?”
I wish I had a simple answer to this question, but it’s never simple when it comes to postpartum depression, which is not a one size fits all illness. Every mom’s experience with PPD is unique to her. Her risk factors, symptoms, feelings, and length of illness won’t look like that of any other mom suffering. Just like PPD, every mom is different and motherhood is also not one size fits all.
Before you confront a mom and suggest she might be suffering from PPD, here are some factors I think you should consider: How will she react? How receptive would she be to the idea of needing and asking for help? I think you should also ask yourself, “Am I the best person for this conversation or is there someone else that should be having this conversation?”
While you consider all the above, here are my five suggestions for approaching a friend you believe might be showing signs of postpartum depression.
1. Research and prepare a list of local resources.
Before you do anything else, get informed. Educate yourself about everything postpartum depression. Postpartum Support International is a great place to start. If you are going to tell a mom you think she might have PPD, you better go in prepared. Arm yourself with the facts about how common postpartum depression is and how temporary it can be with proper treatment. Make a list of local resources for your friend such as therapists, hospitals, and women’s centers that specialize in postpartum mood disorders so she immediately knows there are places to go to help her figure out what’s going on. Offer to go with her if you think that would help. Make sure she knows she’s not alone.
2. Consider how close you are to this mom.
Are you someone who has had difficult conversations with this mom before? Is your friendship one where you confide in each other about everything? If the answer is yes, you probably already have the comfort level needed to approach mom. Start with a question. “Mom, are you doing okay? You don’t seem like yourself. I know you just had a baby, but it’s more than that. What’s going on with you?”
3. Think about mom’s personality and how she reacts to difficult situations.
It’s important to think about mom’s reaction before you suggest she could be suffering from PPD. Does she like to do everything by herself? Does she struggle admitting when something is hard? Would she rather fake a smile than admit something is wrong? Ask yourself these questions and craft your approach based on how you predict she will respond. Or based on your answers, maybe you know someone better suited to talk to her.
4. Talk to mom’s partner first.
Mom’s partner is a direct link to how she is behaving. Her partner might have noticed some red flags too but has no idea what they mean or what to do about them. First ask yourself the questions above to determine the best way for clueing mom in to the fact that something isn’t right and she might need help. Her partner is a good place to start.
5. There is strength in numbers.
If you don’t think mom will listen to only one person, will she respond to her tribe? Ask your group of mom’s friends and family if they’ve witnessed anything similar. If you’re going to go with the group approach, make sure each person involved is extremely close with mom and not of the judgmental, opinionated kind because you want her to be able to feel like she can talk freely and honestly.
No matter what you decide when it comes to approaching your mom friend, the most important thing to remember is to always come from a place of empathy and acceptance, never one of judgment. Mom is most likely feeling tremendous confusion, guilt, and shame about feeling anything other than connected to her new baby and overwhelmed with the joy of becoming a mother. You want her to feel supported and understood so she feels comfortable and safe admitting to any struggles and symptoms relating to postpartum depression. If she’s not responsive to your conversation, just let her know you’re here to hold space for her. Be patient and check in regularly with mom, her partner, and other members of her tribe.