Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health

Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues, including possible causes, sources of treatment and support, and advice for friends and family.

This page is for family and friends who want to support someone experiencing a perinatal mental health problem.

It may be difficult, upsetting and frustrating to live with, or be close to, someone who is experiencing a perinatal mental health problem – but it's important not to blame them for how they are feeling.

Some people who experience perinatal mental health problems may be reluctant to ask for help, out of fear that they might be judged as a bad parent or that it will result in their baby being taken away from them.

So it can be really important for you to reassure them that many people have these experiences, and that they can get better.

Make time for them

You might worry that you're intruding on a private time for their family, or that your loved one might not feel able to ask for your support – but it's always worth offering. You could:

  • Offer to spend casual time with them. Just having some company while getting on with daily tasks and looking after their baby can help make your loved one feel less isolated.
  • Make time to keep in touch. If your loved one is struggling with their mental health, it can make a big difference to them if they feel that you're thinking of them and actively want to spend time together.
  • Suggest activities that you used to do together. Becoming a parent can make some people feel as if they're losing touch with their previous identities, so see if you can find things to do together that you did before they became a parent.
  • Offer to go to parent-child groups or activities together if your loved one is feeling nervous about going alone.

Be patient

  • Give them space. Your loved one might feel under pressure to be positive about their experience about becoming a parent, and it might take some time for them to feel able to talk.
  • Learn about perinatal mental health. If you're worried about how to talk to your loved one about their mental health, try reading the rest of these pages to learn more. You might then find it easier to talk about something they're finding it difficult to open up about.
  • Listen to them. You might want to offer them advice or encourage them to think about how happy they are to have their baby, but your loved one might feel as if they're being criticised. Try to listen to what they want to share.
  • Don't judge. If your loved one opens up about distressing thoughts, try not to judge them. It's likely to be very difficult for them to talk about these sorts of thoughts, so the best thing you can do is not judge.

"It took at least a year for me to overcome my post natal depression, and nearly resulted in the breakdown of my relationship."

Offer practical support

The best way to find out what your loved one needs is to ask them. However, if they feel very low, they might find it difficult to make suggestions. You might want to offer to:

  • do cleaning, laundry and other household tasks
  • help to cook and do the shopping
  • look after the baby, so your friend or family member can get some sleep or have some time for themself

Support them to get help

Asking for help can be a daunting prospect, and even more so if you're worried that you might be judged as a bad parent.

  • Offer to help them arrange a doctor's appointment. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information.
  • Go with them to appointments. You could offer to look after their baby or older children, or help them plan what they'd like to talk about.
  • Help them research different options for support, such as peer support groups or parenting groups. See our page on support and services or useful contacts for more information.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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