Five Things to Never Say to Someone With A Postpartum Mental Illness
Whether it’s a considerable case of baby blues or a more extreme diagnosis of postpartum psychosis, it’s become very evident (through experience) that people struggle with what to say in response. Most of the time, folks mean only kindness with their words, but just have a hard time coming up with the most helpful and supportive replies. As someone currently struggling with postpartum psychosis, I am here to offer some guidance in what you should absolutely NOT say to someone suffering from a postpartum disorder, and some suggestions on really helpful and acceptable responses to use instead.
- “Oh, you have that? My cousin’s sister’s cat’s stepson’s wife had the same thing after she had her first child…”
With the amount of people in this world we live in and how painfully common postpartum disorders are, there is a good chance that everyone knows of SOMEONE who has suffered postpartum SOMETHING. It is often really disrespectful to the person you’re talking to, to compare their situation to someone else’s. It ends up taking the focus completely off of the person who was probably just trying to open up to you about their struggle, a hard thing to do in itself. You’re most likely trying to empathize but instead of comparing a different story of your own or someone else’s, try saying something like, “I’m really sorry for what you’re going through. Is there anything I can do to help you?” And then just listen. Nine times out of ten, all they really need is a listening ear and a simple reminder that you are there for them.
- “Well, at least you aren’t trying to kill yourself or your child.”
Not only is this an incredibly touchy and morbid subject to bring up to a new, struggling mother, but are you sure that the person you’re talking to hasn’t actually considered either of these things? As someone who has contemplated suicide and greatly feared harming my child in my episodes of psychosis, I know that the times people have brought this up have not only made me feel like an awful mother, but made me question even more how utterly crazy I really am. The reality is, mothers with mental illness do consider suicide, and tragically some even lose touch with reality enough to resent or harm their child. They do not want to do either of these things, and they most likely feel incredibly guilty and horrible for having these feelings. Try to make them feel better by offering words like, “I’m really sorry for what you’re going through. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Remind them of how amazing they are as a person, and especially as a mother. They could probably really benefit from a confidence boost right about now.
- “Remember, it could always be worse.”
I don’t know if I’m just speaking for myself or for all women with this one, but I know that when I decide to open up and share with someone, the LAST thing I want to hear is how someone else out there has it worse. I am VERY aware that my circumstances could be worse. Postpartum psychosis is a really terrifying and horrible thing to have to live with. That is my truth. Just because I am sharing my struggle with you does not mean I need or desire pity, or think that I am suffering from the WORST THING IN THE WORLD. In fact, I feel just the opposite. I see that my life is incredibly wonderful and that I am abundantly blessed. The only thing I am angry and sad about is the fact that I can’t enjoy its utter beauty because of this damn mental illness that is OUT OF MY CONTROL. Instead of diminishing my suffering, try saying something to the effect of, “I’m really sorry for what you’re going through. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Offer words of encouragement and positivity, so that they feel your support and belief in their ability to persevere.
- “I totally understand.”
This one really gets me. It doesn’t matter if you have had the exact same mental illness as the person you’re talking to, if you have the same relationship status, same house, same hair, same god damn name, you will never have walked in their shoes and therefore you will never truly “totally understand.” When people try so hard to relate and compare, it ends up translating as selfishness and the inability to focus on the person who’s currently having a really hard time. Which obviously is not your goal. You could say something like, “I’m really sorry for what you’re going through. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Instead of trying to relate, show your empathy without bringing the subject back to yourself. Make sure the person knows they didn’t make a mistake by opening up and being vulnerable with you. Listen.
- “Yeah, adjusting to being a new mom is such hard work.”
Yes, being a new mom IS hard work. You want to know what’s even harder? Being a new mom and the all the shit that comes along with it IN ADDITION TO suffering with a postpartum mental illness. You are talking to someone who is not only “adjusting to being a mom”, but fighting an inner battle beyond your comprehension at the same time. So please, don’t reduce her down to something less than the badass she is by classifying her circumstance as just an adjustment. You know what you should say though? I bet you do. “I’m so sorry for what you are going through. Is there anything I can do to help you?” That is a perfect response that will ALWAYS WORK, and will always assure the person that you are listening, that you care, and that you support them. It literally never fails. As many of you mamas know, being a new mom is one of the hardest transitions a woman can go through. So if you’re talking to someone with a postpartum disorder, remember to remind them of what a fighter and warrior mama they are for moving mountains with a handicap.
I hope that many people read this post and actually heed the words. Talking to someone with postpartum mental illness, or mental illness in general, is such a delicate endeavor. It is so incredibly important to make efforts to help rather than hurt. Remember, words are strong and can cause a lot of hurt when used poorly. They can also be our only tools to help someone in such a profoundly hard time, so be cognitive and aware of what you are saying. Be thoughtful. Be kind.