Coping when your partner is suffering from PND

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Postnatal depression (PND), and even depression in general terms affects an increasingly large number of families these days.

It is something that the medical profession is thankfully more aware of and are now watching out for the early warning signs.  But that doesn’t mean that living with someone who has depression is any easier now than it ever used to be.

My wife suffered from depression following the birth of our second child, but it was not spotted for a significant time afterwards.
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We believe that this happened as my Dad died within 48 hours after my daughter was born, as it was enough to prevent the PND being spotted.  I can use past tense now thankfully, as she’s successfully completed a course of counselling as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It still, however, doesn’t mean the spectre has completely left us all the same.

What do I think the hardest thing about living with someone suffering from depression is?
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In truth, it’s having to accept that someone who you love is suffering on the inside despite external appearances.  Depression isn’t something which gives a person a flashing sign with a big arrow on it saying “look, I am depressed”. It is genuinely hard to spot, not least because it creeps up on you rather than appearing in the same way a nosebleed does.

An important thing to remember is that depression makes your partner not be themselves.  They may well say things they don’t necessarily mean, stop doing things they normally do and quite possibly frustrate you to the point of wondering what on earth you can do.  Intimacy may reduce or even disappear, and it may well feel you are co-existing rather than living with the love of your life.  This is all the depression talking, however easy it would be to over-think things and cause bigger problems as a result.

I’ll admit I didn’t cope with my wife’s depression very well at all.  I didn’t understand it, ended up reacting selfishly about how things ended up being at home and there were many outbursts in both directions.  I simply did not understand what was going on, why it was happening and what I could to help.  In time, through the course of CBT she took part in, we became able to talk about her worries and concerns.  In time I started to see more and more of the wife I knew come back, although even now we still have obstacles to overcome together.

All of this does not mean that you have to accept a new normal when your partner is depressed.  While things will, of course, be different while they are battling depression, it is vitally important that you also look after yourself.  Of course, this is something I did not do myself!  I became low emotionally and more susceptible to depression, allowing other outside factors which would never have caused a reaction to upset me more and more.  It took me a long time to admit I was suffering as well.  Having self-referred myself I am now two months into an online CBT course which is helping me cope with it all.

Number one priority is, of course, supporting your partner as they suffer this horrible yet physically invisible illness. But don’t suffer in silence yourself, as keeping it all inside your own head is equally a recipe for disaster.  There is no shame in not being able to cope with what is an immense burden.  Speak to your Doctor.  Don’t hide from your friends.  Take up help and support where it is available and offered.  Above all though, remember you are not alone and do not have to suffer in silence yourself.

It makes you no less of a man to either live with depression, or suffer from it.  It is something that is hard to cope with, but it’s a journey that you and your partner need to go on together and support each other through.  You will be all the stronger together.

If you are living with depression and would like someone to talk to then please get in touch or join The Dad Network Facebook group for support from other dads that understand.

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