Postpartum depression can be hard to recognize and often goes undiagnosed.
If you think you have postpartum depression, it usually means you’ve noticed that something just isn’t right. This is a great first step, and perhaps the most important. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information or conversations happening about postpartum depression among new and expecting mothers. So they’re not all to blame for not knowing the signs and symptoms.
If you think you have postpartum depression, here are some of the first steps you should take.
Perform a self assessment
You may be used to relying on a doctor, nurse, midwife or doula for treatment during your pregnancy and afterwards. But it’s a little bit different when it comes to mental illness. Unlike physical illnesses, there is no blood test to determine if you have postpartum depression. The standard questionnaires that you fill out after giving birth are designed for more extreme cases and they don’t give you a chance to express how you really feel.
So instead of simply rating how you feel on a scale of 1 – 10, sit down with a pen and paper and perform a more detailed self assessment.
- Keep track of your sleeping and eating habits over the course of at least one week or more.
- Write out all the thoughts you’ve had, whether they were welcome or not.
- Keep a calendar of your social activities and make note of how you felt being around people.
- Document your mood changes in detail, either with a journal or mood tracker.
- Take note of your connection and relationship with your baby, your other children and your significant other.
- Focus on your energy levels. Have they significantly decreased or increased?
- Write down anything and everything that you feel might have changed or is out of the ordinary for you.
After a week or two of taking notes, go back and look it over. Look for anything that might be a red flag or that seemed really out of character for you. If you feel comfortable enough, share your notes with a loved one or your doctor or therapist.
To make it easy for you, you can download and fill out a printable PDF Postpartum Depression Self Assessment Workbook, available in the Postpartum Depression Free Resource Library.
Initiate lifestyle changes
Adjusting to life with a new baby is tough for everyone. Just because you don’t quite feel like yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that you have postpartum depression. Before you think the worst, see if it will go away with a few lifestyle changes.
If you haven’t had the chance to sleep for longer than a 3 hour interval since giving birth, then consider getting some help. Ask your spouse or a family member to watch the baby while you sleep. Hire a postpartum doula or nurse for an overnight shift. If baby’s sleep habits are keeping you up, consider sleep training or hiring a sleep training consultant.
Try yoga, meditation, aromatherapy or another natural remedy to help with mood swings, anxiety or intrusive thoughts. Focus on eating healthier and make time to socialize and connect with your spouse and baby. Spend some time initiating these simple changes into your life and take note of whether they’ve made a difference in your overall mood.
Click here to get the full version of this Postpartum Depression Self Assessment Workbook in the Free Resource Library.
Speak to a Professional
If you’ve completed a self assessment, made some lifestyle changes and still haven’t noticed an improvement, then it’s time to speak to a professional. This is the part that most women avoid because the mere thought of admitting it can be terrifying. But because you’ve done your self assessment, you can feel confident walking into your doctor’s office with proof of what you’ve been going through over the past few weeks. Plus, there are more options that you think when it comes to who to talk to:
*If you’re interested in trying online therapy, check out this detailed review of online therapy companies to help you decide.
Once you have a treatment plan in place, it’s a good idea to find a support group to help you through it. You don’t need to battle postpartum depression alone. Your medical professional may be able to recommend a local group that you can attend. Or you can join a Facebook support group or download an anonymous chat app like CARA Unmask. Speaking to other women who know what you are going through is so helpful and important to your recovery.
Postpartum depression will not go away on it’s own after the postpartum period is over. As your baby grows older and some of the challenges such as sleep deprivation and breastfeeding become easier, the symptoms may ease up. If you are on prescription antidepressants to treat your symptoms, then make sure to speak to your doctor about stopping them. Stopping antidepressants abruptly can cause side effects. Slowly weaning off of them is usually best.
But even if you stop taking the antidepressants and attending therapy sessions, you should always take care of your mental health to try to avoid suffering a postpartum depression relapse. Self care should become your number one priority, including things like eating right and getting enough sleep. Remember that your mental health will always be in a more delicate state, even when you start to feel better.
What NOT To Do
Do NOT wait!
Don’t ignore the symptoms or brush them off as no big deal. The worst thing you can do when it comes to postpartum depression is to do nothing because untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. No matter how strong you think you might be, don’t ever underestimate mental illness and the damage it can do.
Postpartum depression, like many mental illnesses, has a way of making a woman feel suicidal.
For a person who has never suffered from mental illness, it’s almost impossible to understand why a mother would want to abandon her children in such a way. But a woman who has suffered from postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis or other mental illness will tell you that it’s not about that at all.
The misconception about mothers who are suicidal is that they are “giving up.” In reality, many mothers see it as a way to free their children, spouse, loved ones, etc., from the pain that they are causing. It is the ultimate sacrifice for someone else’s happiness.
Despite what the reason is behind it – it is completely extreme and unnecessary. Any person in their right mind would realize that. Right mind being the key word here.
So what is a mother to do when postpartum depression makes her feel suicidal?
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. Do not let postpartum depression get out of hand, and don’t expect it to get better without treatment. I realize it’s hard to ask for help, in fact, I’ve written several times about all the reasons why mothers don’t speak up about postpartum depression, so if anyone understands, it’s me. But there’s a big difference between feeling ashamed and feeling suicidal. If there was ever a time to speak up about postpartum depression, it’s now.
The only way to avoid suicidal thoughts and tendencies caused by postpartum depression is to begin a treatment plan.
If you think you have postpartum depression, speak to your doctor. If your doctor is not available in the near future, or you simply don’t feel comfortable speaking to your doctor about it for whatever reason – then try contacting your local public health nurse, find a therapist or mental health center. And if all else fails, head to an urgent care center or the ER. But don’t give up seeking help just because your doctor isn’t available, there are so many other options available.
If you don’t get the help you need, keep looking. It’s sad that I even need to include this as an option but it’s so common for women with postpartum depression to get brushed off by the health care system. If you’re told that “it’s nothing” or “it’s just sleep deprivation” or “this is normal motherhood” and you truly don’t agree – then get a second opinion.
If you’ve exhausted all your options locally, then consider finding treatment online or over the telephone. Online therapy can be extremely beneficial and convenient. There are several other resources available online, in-home and over the phone, so there is no excuse for avoiding treatment.
Value Your Life
“They would be better off without me” should be the slogan for postpartum depression considering how many women have said it, myself included.
Postpartum depression is notorious for reducing a woman’s self-esteem and sense of self worth. This opens the door for suicidal thoughts. To make matters worse, others often tell us things like “don’t worry, you’re a great mom” or “you should give yourself more credit” thinking that they are helping, when really, it just invalidates our feelings.
In order to see your life as worth living, you need to focus on how you feel about yourself.
Consider all the things that you once loved about yourself, and that you will love again. Like your ability to win arguments or make people feel comfortable around you. Maybe it was how others came to you for fashion or relationship advice. These are things you can look forward to again when you get the postpartum depression under control.
Make a list of some of your best qualities. Do you have the best smile? Great hair? Eyes that sparkle? Or is it your excellent sense of humor or party planning skills? What makes you stand out among the rest?
Think of a time that you made others laugh, or helped someone who was hurt. You have the power to affect another person’s life in a way they may never forget. Try surrounding yourself in positive images or create a self-care sanctuary that you can escape to when you’re feeling low.
Look at pictures of your pregnancy, some of your happiest memories, vacations or family holidays. What would those pictures look like without you in them? There would be a big empty hole where you belong.
Scroll through old Facebook or Instagram posts and remember who you were before postpartum depression. You have changed, and it’s unlikely you will ever be the same person again. But it helps to remember who you once were and know that your life is just as important now as it was then.
Maybe we’re not the ideal mothers we thought we would be, but no one ever is – even the ones without postpartum depression. The truth is, our children would much rather have a sad mother around than no mother at all.
Make a plan
No, not a suicide plan. A plan for the future.
It’s hard to imagine a future when you’re in the depths of postpartum depression, but I promise you – it’s there. Each climb that you take upwards out of the deep, dark pit of despair brings you closer to the light. And if you can see the light – even if it’s just a tiny speck like a distant star in the night sky, then you can climb towards it. That tiny speck of light is your future and the higher you climb, the closer you get to a brighter future.
Having a plan can remind you that the future does exist.
Set realistic goals with dates to achieve them by. These can include things like finishing a book or learning a new skill. Try to avoid putting things like weight loss on there as those are almost impossible to achieve and can be discouraging.
Make a bucket list. What are some things that you’ve always wanted to do before you die? It doesn’t have to be the usual big ones like skydiving or cliff-jumping. Think of anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to do in your lifetime and put it on the list.
Create a self-care schedule. Self-care is the latest buzz word these days, and there’s a good reason for that. Mothers need to make time for themselves otherwise bad things like suicidal thoughts can happen. Schedule yourself some time to take care of yourself and don’t put it off. Postponing things just for you signal your brain that you are not as important as the other things happening around you.
Bonus: Check out the post: How to Create a Self Care Routine as a SAHM and download a free self-care workbook!
Meet with a financial adviser. No, not to “get your affairs in order” but rather, to make a financial plan for the future. Find out how to save and manage your money to make sure it will last. Financial problems can cause a lot stress and suicidal behavior. Having a financial plan for the future can help you feel more prepared for the road ahead. You can start getting your finances organized by downloading a Finance Tracker kit from Shine Sheets.
Suicidal tendencies are only one of the many nasty symptoms of postpartum depression. Women also have to deal with postpartum rage, intrusive thoughts and a whole slew of physical pain as well. Even with a treatment plan in place, it is likely something that mothers will have to battle their entire lives.
The key to keeping postpartum depression symptoms under control is avoiding the things that trigger it, such as stress, illness, sleep deprivation or the winter blues.
Since it’s impossible to avoid triggers 100% of the time, it’s important to follow your treatment plan and make sure you are open about what you’re feeling with your loved ones. Recruiting help to manage your symptoms and triggers will make sure that you continue down the right path.
Talk to Someone
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s important to talk to someone about them. When someone commits suicide, those closest to them often swear that they had no idea what they were going through. Don’t let that be you.
You have several options for who to talk to if your postpartum depression is making you feel suicidal.
Your closest person. This could be your spouse or partner, a sibling, friend or parent… whoever you feel the closest to and most comfortable with. They are often the best person to tell first, because if they have been paying attention to your behavior – maybe they already suspect that someone isn’t quite right.
A therapist. Therapists are trained to handle situations where people feel suicidal. They know what to say and what not to say. They also understand where the feelings stem from and won’t judge you for expressing your feelings. Online therapy is an option worth considering if you’re worried about the trouble of finding a therapist and making appointments.
A support group. Sometimes all we need is a sounding board and someone who can relate. Joining a postpartum depression support group, whether in-person or online, is a safe place where we can open up about feeling suicidal and not be condemned for it. Many mothers have been there too and will gladly give you advice or encouragement.
A crisis center. Crisis centers are designed specifically for handling emergent situations where you feel like you have no where else to turn. Many of them have the ability to dispatch help locally if they feel it is required (similar to calling 9-1-1). But they will also listen to you and provide you with advice and resources.
Or – you can talk to me! I’m here to help, after all. I’m a stranger who doesn’t know anything at all about you except that I have once been there too, so I will never judge you, ignore you or invalidate your feelings. In fact, I would treat you exactly the way I wished someone would have treated me when I needed them to. I DON’T have any formal medical training but I DO have access to a lot of resources that I would be more to happy to share with you.
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Suicide is not a choice that a woman with postpartum depression makes, but rather something that happens to her. It’s the result of an illness in the brain that tells us lies and forces us to attack our own bodies. Women with postpartum depression are exhausted, chemically imbalanced, overwhelmed and in physical pain, so when the brain sneaks in and whispers “just end it” – it sounds like a good idea at the time.
I hope, with every fiber in my being, that you find your true worth and value, remember that you are loved and cherished and know that suicide is not the best option.