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  • Jacqueline Tumminello

7 Ways to Support a Spouse or Partner Struggling with a PMAD

If your loved one has been diagnosed with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (or PMAD), like postpartum depression, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, or PTSD, your support can help their recovery. Remind your partner (and yourself), this is NOT their fault. Neither of you chose this. PMADs are common for new parents, including fathers and non-birthing partners. 1 in 5 women struggle with PMADs (Ayalya, Whelan & Miller, 2023) and approximately 1 in 10 fathers experience depression during baby’s first year (Scarff, 2019). Here are eight ways you can make a difference.


  1. Do not deny there is a problem. If your spouse or partner is struggling with a PMAD, pretending that “everything is fine” will only delay their recovery. Instead, gently share your concern about your loved one’s well-being. Let them know that you see how hard this is for them, and ask how you can offer support.

  2. Be there. Sit with your partner and listen. Put the smartphone down while you’re talking. This may feel hard. It is tough to be with someone who feels low, who doesn’t seem to hear a word you’re saying. Don’t assume your partner doesn’t want you nearby if they say they are not interested in snuggling or sexual contact.

  3. Give practical support. Are you a “do-er”, a “fixer”? While you can’t fix your wife’s depression, or save your partner from scary intrusive thoughts, there are dozens of things you CAN do to show that you are in this together. You CAN go grocery shopping, place a bottle of water next to the nursing/pumping/feeding station, sign up for your older children’s parent-teacher conferences, notice your infant is outgrowing their 0-3 month onesie and purchase/organize the collection of 3-6 months clothing, etc, etc.

  4. Help them connect with their social support system. They might feel overwhelmed with guilt for meeting a friend or sibling for coffee. Express that it’s ok to go anyway, and that those guilty feelings are common. Tell her that she is being a good mother by caring for herself in this way; tell him you noticed how attentive he was following time with a close friend. If your loved one doesn’t have peers to connect with, ask if they might be interested in connecting with other parents in the area. Research local opportunities to strengthen their support network through support groups or play cafes. Share your findings and discuss ways to realistically integrate social time into your family’s schedule.

  5. Step in as needed for non-supportive (though possibly well-meaning) others. If you notice family members or friends criticizing personal decisions around sensitive issues like feeding, or making condescending remarks like “When I had a baby, I didn’t have the luxury of being depressed,” be willing to establish some healthy boundaries. Ask your partner how these comments affect them, and whether they want you to intervene. This is a vulnerable time and you may have more capacity to navigate these situations.  Gently reinforce the decisions you and your partner have made about the role your support system will have in the baby’s upbringing.  Redirect unsolicited advice, being mindful of cultural differences within your support system.

  6. Be honest with yourself about how you are managing all this stress.  You might be angry, stressed, resentful, or overwhelmed. Pay attention to signs you may be withdrawing from the relationship (i.e. staying at work later than necessary, logging extra hours playing video games) or if you are drinking more alcohol than usual. Reach out to that friend or cousin who you can trust.  You don’t have to give birth to experience postnatal depression or anxiety.  Research shows the risk for paternal depression increases up to 1 in 2 if your partner suffers from postpartum depression (Goodman, 2004).  Seek professional help if you are struggling or concerned that you might direct anger at your partner or kids.

  7. Encourage your partner to seek professional support and offer to participate.  While PMADs are common, they are treatable. Offer to help your partner find a therapist or psychiatric provider trained in perinatal mental health issues that they feel comfortable with.  If you don’t know where to start, Mom’s Mental Health Initiative prescreens Wisconsin providers and can help mothers connect with professional support quickly.   The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline (1-833-852-6262) and the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988) offer 24/7 confidential support for immediate help.


If you would like to learn more about how to support your loved one (and yourself!) through pregnancy and the postpartum period, consider attending our upcoming event Showing Up: How to Support your Partner or Loved One through Perinatal Mental Health Issues on April 28 from 2-3:15 in Shorewood. For more information, reach out to MMHI or jacquelyn@skyandstonecounseling.com




 

References:

 

Ayala, N. K., Lewkowitz, A. K., Whelan, A. R., & Miller, E. S. (2023). Perinatal Mental Health Disorders: A Review of Lessons Learned from Obstetric Care Settings. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 19, 427–432. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S292734

 

Goodman, J.H. (2004), Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45: 26-35. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02857.x

 

Scarff J. R. (2019). Postpartum Depression in Men. Innovations in clinical neuroscience16(5-6), 11–14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6659987/


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