What It's Like To Have A Friend With Post Natal Depression

Ok, so I've never suffered with post natal depression and some people might be sat wondering what gives me the right to blog about it, when it's a condition which is genuinely wrecking the every day lives of Mothers around the world. But whilst I haven't suffered from PND, I have been a friend to Mothers who have, and that, in itself, is an experience of this horrible, all-consuming illness.
Oh boo hoo, poor old me, having to deal with a mentally unwell friend, right? That's not the angle I'm coming at - but I think the many women that I know who have suffered and recovered from PND, or are still fighting it now, will agree with me when I say, if you have a friend who has been diagnosed with post natal depression, it's absolutely, 100% Ok to say "I really don't know what to do to make this better for you."
As a friend of someone with post natal depression, or any kind of mental illness, you don't have to have the answers - if you had them, you'd probably be proper rich and popular. No new Mum, struggling to cope with her own emotions, has turned to her friends looking for a miracle cure.
You want know how it often feels to have a good friend with PND? Frustrating. It really is OK to be frustrated. Grumble in to your cup of tea because you went out and bought special biscuits, or even baked, and she cancelled on you. Again. It's totally OK to pout a bit (in privacy) and feel like you've been altogether mugged off. It doesn't make you an awful friend, or person. You're totally human too and having a friend or loved one who struggles with their mental health can be tough, and it can make even the best of us feel like we're fighting a losing battle at times.
But here's the thing. Posh biscuits and baking prowess aren't exactly the cornerstones of lasting friendship. Buy a pack of Hobnobs, chuck them to the back of the cupboard, and let your friend know that they're there whenever she's ready. Don't stop inviting, even if your invitations are repeatedly rejected, or accepted only to be cancelled ten minutes prior to their ETA. Keep inviting, and keep telling them it's OK when they can't make it (even if you do a big huff to yourself and wonder why you bothered cleaning the bathroom).
It's really hard to keep on understanding PND. I kind of get it - I've spoken to enough women who've been there and wear the battle scars to prove it, to be able to recognise symptoms, to be able to recount how it made the women that I know feel, how it made them behave - but I haven't been there. I've had my own private struggles with my mental health in the past which probably makes it easier for me to empathise with PND sufferers but, for me personally, the year or so after having both of my children have been positive times, so my understanding can only go so far.
I've wanted to snap my fingers and make my friends feel better. I've also wanted them to stop letting me down all of the time. In the past I've eventually stopped asking them to join me and other Mums for groups or lunch meets or play dates because "they'll only make an excuse not to come" - and now that I'm a little older and a little wiser, I realise that that wasn't the point, and that I should have kept on asking, or at least left the invitation open.
I do know that it isn't uncommon, when you have a friend with PND, to feel as though you're being rejected. Like you're going to effort, and having it thrown back in your face. I also know from speaking to women who've suffered from PND that they feel bloody awful knowing that they've made you feel that way. The best thing that you can do, in my experience, to minimise the awkwardness for all concerned, is to let it go gracefully - an "Ok not to worry, I'll let you know next time we're going" is all that's needed.
However, I think it's really important as well not to just pretend that your friend's PND isn't "a thing". Temptation can be, especially for the very British among us, to ignore a situation when we don't know how to handle it. Once you've accepted that you don't have to have a solution to the problem in order to be a good friend, it's then difficult to know how to proceed. Acknowledging PND can be so comforting for everyone concerned though, both the Mum who's suffering, and the friend who doesn't know what to say. A simple "I know you've got a lot on your plate at the moment but if you ever just need a chat and a cup of tea, you know where I am" could mean a lot to a depressed Mum, and you only need to remind them every now and again that the offer still stands to ensure that they don't feel you've forgotten them entirely.
I think it's also vital to regularly ask anyone how they are, but especially a new Mum, and especially a new Mum that you already know is struggling with depression. Just a text or a phone call to say "How are you feeling today?" can open up the way for a conversation that might really take the burden off of a friends shoulders, or at least let them know you care. The temptation for the depressed Mum of course is to simply reply with a "Great thanks" - but whether or not you suspect it isn't true - replying with a "Glad to hear it, if you're ever having a tough day you know I'm hear to talk." would be my go to. This is solid advice for the friends of anyone with a new baby, whether they've been formally diagnosed with depression, seem a little blue, or appear totally chipper and thriving.
Latest studies (conducted by charity 4Children) suggest that around 3 in 10 women experience PND, which means it's very unlikely that any of us will make it through our adult lives without having a friend with the illness, if it doesn't effect us directly. Around 25% of PND Mothers still have PND symptoms at their child's first birthday, and a staggering 58% do not seek help with their illness.
If you have a friend who you suspect may be suffering from PND it's always worth gently encouraging them to discuss their feelings with their health visitor or GP. PANDAS operate a fantastic antenatal and postnatal mental health helpline too on 0843 28 98 401. If you're ever worried that a friend is about to harm themselves, or their baby, always call 999.

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