As we wind up the moment that is PND Awareness Week I wanted to raise awareness of the ‘catch-all’ phrases oft utilised in relation to someone with postnatal depression (or depression, generally), oft utilised by those unsure of what to say, or who think they know everything.
Not knowing what to say, as we’ve mentioned before, is ok, so long as you say something. Even if that something is “I don’t know what to say”.
As well intentioned as some phrases are, often they are not only not helpful, but can lead to the recipient, particularly if she (or he) is clinically depressed.
I’m not shy on expressing my distaste for the “you need a break” advice.
Mostly, when you reach that point of needing a break so bad, you’re well aware of it yourself. It’s little things like finding your knickers in the coffee machine, dressing your son in a tutu (even more impressive if you’re the only girl in your house, and no one in the family actually owns a tutu) or you find yourself staring blankly at the microwave, knowing you know how to work it, but not being able to remember in that moment.
In short, those who need a break know they need a break and don’t need to be reminded of it.
Getting a break when you’re a mum often requires precision planning, requiring numerous phone calls and coordinating the activities of a small child. Or children if you have more than one.
That’s the easy bit.
If you have a child with anxiety or who worries a lot, or doesn’t like to be away from you or stresses when things are out of routine, you get the added bonus of additional stress!
Add a dose of Depression in there and things can get a little overwhelming and seemingly impossible.
You see, by the time you’ve hit the ‘desperate for a break’ stage, with added Depression, you’ve often simultaneously hit a point of apathy, lethargy and CBF-edy. The brain isn’t functioning as per normal and the idea of picking up the phone, or logging onto the internet to research good spots for breaks, booking it and then organising all the care of children and the rest of it is beyond overwhelming.
It’s much easier to lie in bed than have to make decisions.
The energy of lifting an arm, or being forced to have a conversation with someone when you’re having a bit of a struggle with conversations with people is less than appealing, even when the reward is so very much needed.
Navigating terms, conditions and a booking system online is just as difficult, and the stress caused only adds to the fatigue, lethargy and feelings of uselessness and hopelessness.
Basically, taking a break isn’t easy.
In fact, it’s easier to obtain meds than to take a break and even that can be a difficult terrain to traverse; with hurdles and potholes and canyons that can swallow you up and spit you out again.
It, too, requires picking up the phone and having a conversation when conversations are difficult. It requires finding the time for appointments and pouring your heart out to someone who hopefully cares.
If you are faced with the overwhelming desire to say to a mum who is looking tired, stressed and serving you a latte in a sock when you pop around for a visit, don’t.
- don’t tell her she looks like shit, ask her if she is ok
- let her know she has a safe person to speak to, who is not going to judge, offer advice or tell her she needs the good old, elusive break
- listen, nod and say ‘uh huh’ in all the right places; unless you are a psychologist or trained counsellor, don’t behave like one – be a friend.
- ask her what you can do for her, what you can help her with … say “Is there something I can do?”
- do what she says; if she asks you to hold the baby while she hangs the washing, hold the damned baby! Don’t offer to hang the washing, hold the baby
- if she says she needs a break, help her to organise one – you may need to take a bit of control; but along the lines of guidance rather than taking over
- if you think she is in danger and needs to see a professional, help to organise that
Mostly, as I’ve said numerous times before, don’t state the obvious. She’s had a baby, not a lobotomy, and hasn’t lost so much of her brain function that she’s not aware of the most obvious solutions to problems, i.e. ‘you need a break’.
She knows, it’s just that life, circumstances and a depression that’s affecting ability to the think, self worth and energy levels make the obvious solution difficult to implement.
If you do have a friend requiring help, please phone her Maternal & Child Health Nurse or family GP (or local GP), check out beyond blue or PANDA, or call Support for Mums for practical support and referral.
If she is in immediate danger of harming herself or someone else, or has a suicide plan, please call Lifeline immediately on 13 11 14