How to help an employee or colleague with postpartum depression

Going back to work after having a baby can be very hard. While this transition is challenging for almost every new parent, it’s especially so for those suffering from postpartum depression.

The support of a manager or team member at work can make a huge difference during this challenging time, but it can be hard to know how best to support an employee.

To help you support a colleague or employee, Tanya Woolf, Head of Psychological Services, Onebright shares the symptoms of postpartum depression to look out for, and some practical ways you can help.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum means the time after childbirth. Postpartum depression (also known as postnatal depression) is suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue. Limited or lack of social support for the mother in her new role is another key risk factor for it.

Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. It’s a common problem, affecting more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners. It affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but it is treatable.

It’s also important to note that postnatal depression doesn’t just affect women. Fathers can suffer from it too.

What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?

There are a number of different symptoms of postpartum depression. Here are some to look out for:

  • A sense of worthlessness and inadequacy with a loss of confidence
  • A persistent feeling of low mood or unhappiness
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby
  • Difficulty in concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • A sense of hopelessness and helplessness about the future
  • Thoughts that are extreme, negative, self-critical, and unhelpful
  • Difficulty being around people leading to withdrawal and isolating self
  • A loss of energy, general aches and pains and little motivation to do things

How to help a colleague return to work after having a baby

So how can you help a colleague return to work after having a baby? Here are some practical tips.

Stay in regular contact

Most employees don’t share their struggles with their employer. Sometimes the women who appear to be well and strong are the ones that are going to extraordinary lengths to cover up how they truly feel, and in fact they need help. 

Keep communication open and ask the individual how they feel and what they require for their return to work. Try to accommodate requirements as best you can as a business and be open to amending processes to help an individual feel comfortable about a return to work – look at more flexible working, remote working requirements, and regularly ask if a workload feels too much.

Monitor behaviours

Managers should keep an eye on the individual and monitor any changes in behaviour, productivity and presenteeism.

Look out for a change in personality, a loss of enthusiasm and withdrawal, and a reduction in productivity or quality of work. Present opportunities to change up workloads and tasks, and ensure you have regular touch days with the individual to ask them how they are getting on.

Provide support at work or through a professional

Implement parent groups at work so new parents can support each other and provide a range of resources for parents to access – online and in-person – including self-care guides, counselling, and professional treatment.

Make it easy for people to seek the help and guidance they need either at work or through a professional and communicate the benefits that this provides.

Remove misunderstandings

Educate and train managers on the misunderstandings of postpartum depression to remove barriers and enable individuals to open up about their mental health. Training will help managers to understand the complexities of returning to work after having a baby and normalise this type of depression. It also prepares and equips them with the knowledge they need to assist team members.

Treatment for postpartum depression

Just returning to work (with the right support) can help mothers to beat depression. If you do suspect a colleague is suffering from postpartum depression, there are treatments you can recommend or sensitively sign post them to.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for mild to moderate depression. If symptoms of depression are severe, and medication is required, then it has a greater effect if combined with CBT.

Photo by Joice Kelly