One of the things that people ask me the most when someone they know is struggling with PostPartum Depression is “What can I do to help them?”. It’s a pretty normal question to ask when a loved one Is dealing with something difficult and it touches me and makes me happy to see people who have a desire to be supportive to their friend or family member.
The problem with that question is that there isn’t really any one answer. Every person and situation is different, every woman presents a little differently as far as their symptoms and how their PPD manifests itself. For some women, they can’t do anything but sleep while others can’t sleep at all. Some have no energy and some have more energy than they know what to do with. Some don’t want to be around people or leave their house at all, some can’t stand to be alone and either have to have people over constantly or be away from their house. Some will feel totally detached from their baby, some will feel obsessed and won’t be able to let the baby out of their sight or stop checking on the baby for fear of something bad happening. Some will be sad and cry, some will be angry and have fits of rage, some will just feel numb. Some women may feel all of these, none of these, or some combination. And bear in mind, this is far from an exhaustive list. There are as many possibilities and combinations as there are stars in the sky, if not more (I won’t pretend to know the limits – or lack thereof – of PPD and it’s symptoms/manifestations).
The type of support that any given woman will need/want isn’t really something that can be predicted, and it may change from day to day or even moment to moment. The best thing to do is to ask HER what SHE needs/wants.
While I can’t tell you exactly everything she’ll need, I can tell you something that will be helpful to her: just be there for her. You don’t have to have all the answers or solutions, you don’t have to be able to “fix” everything, just knowing that there is someone there for her who loves her unconditionally and will support her no matter what, who’s willing to listen to her without judging her for the thoughts and feelings she can’t help having, can be a huge help. One of the worst things I can say that I and every woman I’ve known with PPD has struggled with is the feeling of “I’m totally alone, nobody knows what I’m going through, nobody understands, if they knew how I really felt and the things that I really think they would think I’m a monster and turn their backs on me. There is nobody out there whom I can talk to about this.”. If you’ve never had PPD, you probably won’t understand, but you can give her that ear to talk to, that hand to hold. You can be that person who says “No matter what, I support you and nothing you are fighting can make me turn my back on you or betray you or walk away from you”. I can not tell you how much of a help it is to know that somebody is listening.
So, if you know someone who is hurting, who feels lost in their emotions and thoughts, who is fighting their way through the dark tunnel of PPD, ask them what they need, and make sure they know that you care and you will be there for them the whole way through, that they’re not taking this dark journey alone.