It’s been a brilliant Maternal Mental Health Week and there are some fantastic campaigns on social right now, hopefully giving mums a sense of a community that’s there to support them, as well as helping people better understand how women are suffering right now. This doesn’t have to mean PND – it’s all forms of mental health concerns, and hopefully about garnering better mental health in general, throughout all communities of mothers. I joined in with Amy Ransom’s ‘What I’d Give A New Mum’ campaign, and you can see so many more under the hashtag #maternalmentalhealth.
A few weeks back, I joined a panel at Lobella Loves’ Depression Wears Lippy event, at Smashbox Studios in London. Organised by Jo Love – who started the campaign to dispel so many myths that depression has to look a certain way – we learned about her online shop, Lobella Loves, which contributes a portion of its income to charities supporting mothers with mental health issues, and about the events she organises to give women the opportunity to meet and find the support they need during maternity leave and beyond.
I was alongside my mate, Natasha Bailie, who has created Mental X Mutha and The Psychology Mum, clinical psychologist and mother, Dr Emma Hepburn. It was amazing to see women joining together in support of each other and we discussed our various experiences of having mental health issues as mothers in what felt like a very safe and supportive space. But the biggest takeaway for me (apart from the Lady Bakewell Park biscuits) was the tips Clinical Psychologist Dr Hepburn gave for helping a friend or loved one affected by depression or mental health issues, particularly a new mum. So I thought I’d share those tips here!
- VALIDATE how they are feeling- let them know its okay to feel that way. Be non- judgemental and don’t tell them how they should or shouldn’t be feeling.
- EMPATHISE- you can say things like ‘that sounds really hard’.
- LISTEN to what they are saying. Give them space to talk and time to respond rather than jumping in with responses.
- NORMALISE mental health and how they are feeling. We all feel bad at times, its part of human experience and it’s okay to feel that way.
- Stay calm if you can. It can be frustrating and difficult hearing things but if you demonstrate you are able to listen non-judgementally and contain their emotions this can increase their feelings of safety and they may be more able to open up.
- Let them know you are able to hear what they are saying- psychologists talk about being able to hold and contain emotions and this is very powerful in itself.
- Let them go at their own pace and speak about things they want to. Forcing them to speak or moving too fast is more likely to make them disengage.
- If someone is not ready to talk, or doesn’t want to, let them know you are there for them, care about them, want to help and will be available when they are ready.
- Don’t feel you have to jump in with solutions. Just being there and listening and caring is often enough.
- Don’t tell them what they should be doing. But you can ask if they would like you to help work out ways to help or finding out what help is available.
- Ask how you can help. They may be unsure. Rather than telling them what they can or should do offer two or three things you could do- e.g meet for a coffee? Text them twice a week? Bring them a meal round? Look after their children for an hour?
- Don’t take what they say or their actions personally. Cancelling on you or not texting is not a slight to you, it is a reflection of how difficult they are feeling.
- Don’t forget about them- even if they don’t contact you, send them a text or message. It can be as simple a saying “I’m thinking about you” or sending them a nice photo or memory of something you did together.
Photos by Nancy H Gibbs
More resources from Dr Hepburn: