Continuing the mental health month theme on my blog, this post highlights the devastation that PND can wreak upon a family. But it is also an optimistic post as it provides a chink of light by proposing seven key tips for dads whose partners are suffering from PND.
Two months after our second child was born, my wife was diagnosed with post-natal depression.
We already had an elder child who was 7.5 years old when her brother was born. After my wife was diagnosed she seemed to rapidly go downhill in the space of three weeks such that she eventually ended up in a mother-and-baby unit which was over 100 miles away from home.
I became a single parent looking after my daughter whilst my wife and son were in hospital. After three months she was moved to a mother-and-baby unit nearer home but she was there for three days before she refused to go back to the unit on a home visit.
The next day she went out for a walk and ultimately took an overdose at a nearby hotel.
I will never forget having the police in my house in the middle of the night whilst I had to get friends to look after my children.
My wife subsequently needed further treatment at a psychiatric hospital, then moved with my son to her parents for six months, who live over 300 miles away, and got far better treatment than provided by my local area of the NHS.
Our relationship has now broken down.
The points below are completely from my point of view and I hope they help you if your partner is suffering from PND:
1. Take all the offers of help you need: The number of people who offered me help from doing some hovering to looking after my daughter when I need to go somewhere on my own was at times overwhelming but so gratefully received. I only ever needed to take up a small proportion of those offers but always did so when I needed to. If you need help and have been offered it then there is no shame in taking it and people will be grateful that they can help. If you do need help then ask from family, friends or neighbours – people will always be there if you need them.
2. Look after yourself: During the period of my wife’s PND I twice had periods of a couple of weeks where it felt like I could literally not stop crying (luckily I have my own office at work). I was able to get carer’s support from my local health authority which for me was an individual who I could talk to every couple of weeks and who was not emotionally involved in my situation and who provided great support when I needed it. If you do feel that you are not coping then try and talk to someone, and if you need more professional help, then try and get that help. I was ultimately referred me for counselling with a local charity which helped me try and understand what had happened.
In my experience, my wife’s personality completely changed when she was very ill and it can be very hard to experience that change in someone you love all day, every day. If you need to, try and give yourself a break even if that means going to the shops for 20 minutes and getting out the house.
3. Try and find out as much as you can: A local support group would have been fantastic but without one I had to try and found out as much information as I could about PND from the internet and other individuals who had been in the same situation as me. Obtain as much information as you need so that you can understand some more about what is going on and why your partner is ill. My only note of caution would be is to recognise that unless you have been through depression before, it is very difficult to understand what you partner is feeling and why she is feeling it, and that there is only so much you can also know and understand.
4. Kick up a fuss so you know what is going on: In hindsight, I did not know enough about my wife’s treatment or her medication, why some things worked and others did not. I wish I had asked more questions of her doctors and the seemingly endless number of individuals who kept coming to see her when she was at home. I was constantly told that ‘most of the recovery will be at home’. I have had no experience of mental illness and wish now that I had known what to ask the people who were treating her and not just accepted what they said and why they said it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the nurses and doctors treating your partner to ensure you are satisfied with what they are doing and why they are doing it. My wife got treatment to help her bond with our son at her parent’s local hospital which made some difference to her starting to recover; ask the people treating your partner whether there are these types of treatments which could help your partner as well.
If for some reason you consider one of the individuals treating your partner is not helping then try and get that changed. My wife’s Community Mental Health Nurse would get cross with her when she forgot things but she forgot things because of the depression not because she was not listening. We were ultimately overtaken by events but she wanted to change her CMN because she did not think the original individual was doing her any good.
5. Don’t try and fix the illness: I constantly made suggestions to my wife about things she could do (go for a walk, got to playgroups to meet other mums, sleep when he is asleep, the list is almost endless) that I believed would help her. They would not necessarily cure her and most parents have probably heard them all before but I had an almost overwhelming need to suggest all these things as I thought they would help. Ultimately my wife’s depression was so severe that it was a struggle for her to just get out of the bed and get through the day and so she was not capable of doing the things I was suggesting. Try and accept that your partner may not be able to do everything that everyone, including the healthcare professionals, says she should do and don’t get upset or angry if she does not seem to be helping herself. It is the effect the illness is having on her.
6. Try and appreciate the positive moments: My wife had a very positive few days at home half way through her time at her first hospital and there was optimistic comments about her being discharged after this home visit. However, as soon as she returned to the hospital she became more depressed and things took a turn for the worse after that. However, those positive few days were something that could be hung onto as an indication that in the future she could get better. Some of her weekend home visits were awful and it seemed like there was no end in sight but sometimes, even only for a few hours, she was back to what she was like before the illness started. Try and see the good times as positive moments but understand that sometimes they may only be temporary.
7. She will get better: Every individual who takes their life because of PND is a devastating tragedy for everybody involved. However, in nearly all cases (I don’t know the exact numbers, I am not sure anyone does) the person suffering from this dreadful illness will get better. It will be hard to believe this at times but hopefully for you it will be true.
(NB The author of this post has requested to remain anonymous)