Postnatal depression is a problem experienced by many women after childbirth. However, it is often a topic that is incredibly difficult for new mothers to speak about. The guilt, shame and quiet suffering that many mothers endure is a sensitive and complicated issue, but by discussing this experience openly, there is at least a chance to promote a greater understanding of mental health and ways of offering support.
Dr. Catherine Wikholm is a London-based Clinical Psychologist working in private practice. She is also a new, first time mother. Her newborn son Gabriel has been a huge source of joy for her and her partner. The experience of becoming a mother has also given her first-hand insight into the daily challenges that motherhood brings.
Here, Dr. Catherine shares with Feed Me 2 some of her practical advice for new mothers experiencing Postnatal depression.
The first thing to know about Postnatal Depression is that you are not alone. Many mothers go through this experience. Talking therapies can be very effective for recovery from postpartum low mood and depression. So my initial advice would be to seek help promptly by asking your GP (or midwife/health visitor) for a referral.
While you are waiting for professional help, don’t try to cope alone – if you have friends or family who could offer support, talk to them also. Having a support network is so important for ensuring well-being. Feeling socially isolated can trigger and maintain low mood and depression, and having no one to help out or turn to can leave mothers feeling very stressed, as caring for a child is a 24/7 job. My advice would be to explore the opportunities for making new friends with other mothers with similar-aged children in your local area, such as NCT coffee mornings, mother and baby classes, and social media apps such as Mush or Peanut.
Self-care is also extremely important for your mental health. It’s natural to put your children’s needs first and be very focused on taking care of them, or other family members. But that shouldn’t mean totally neglecting your own needs. The importance of engaging in good self-care, on a regular daily basis, can’t be overstated. It doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming – allowing yourself 15 minutes for a relaxation exercise, to eat a nutritious meal, or to enjoy a hot bath, can all make a noticeable difference to your mood and stress levels. To feel good about yourself, it’s essential that you treat yourself as though you matter – because you do.
It is important to remember that low mood skews your thought processes and that negative thoughts are often not accurate. Try to notice when you are starting to engage in unhelpful negative thinking or rumination and distract yourself. There are a number of practical exercises that you can do each day to shift your thought patterns. The website Get Self Help www.getselfhelp.com has some excellent CBT-based self-help resources for managing low mood and depression. I also have developed a stress-management program for Grokker www.grokker.com that may be helpful to promote a greater sense of well-being.
And finally, if you know someone experiencing depression, let them know that you are there for them and want to help. Try to encourage them to talk and ensure you listen and respond in a non-judgemental way. Often people who are feeling depressed or anxious can become quite avoidant and isolated, which maintains the problem. A good way to help is by supporting them to regularly engage in activities that enable a sense of achievement, enjoyment, and closeness with others. This could involve reconnecting with things they used to enjoy, or trying. Start small and encourage them to build up to more activities as their confidence and mood improves.