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How to support your partner with their emotional health during pregnancy or after birth

27 July 2020

Community services Perinatal mental health
Caring for a loved one who is experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression, which can occur during pregnancy or after the arrival of a baby, can be confusing and challenging. Knowing how to provide the right support to that person can be difficult and take time to figure out as both parents both transition into parenthood.
Perinatal anxiety and depression are common and serious illnesses that can affect any individual and their family, regardless of culture or age. Up to one in five women and one in 10 men experience perinatal anxiety or depression which is treatable but best managed when it is identified early. This is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms.  
National Coordinator Raphael Services, Anthony Harrington, shares some advice on how you can support your partner if they are showing signs of anxiety or depression.

Know the signs and symptoms

If you notice that your partner is not acting like their usual self or is experiencing significant changes in sleeping and eating habits, this could be a sign that they are experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression.

The symptoms of anxiety and depression are often the same in women and men. Your partner may experience these during pregnancy, or at any point in the 12 months after your baby is born.

Symptoms of perinatal anxiety include, but are not limited to:

  • worry or fear that interrupts thoughts and gets in the way of daily tasks
  • panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
  • feeling restless or irritable
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • trouble falling or staying asleep which is unrelated to baby’s needs

Symptoms of perinatal depression include, but are not limited to: 

  • consistently low mood, feeling numb or feeling negative
  • feeling like a failure, helpless, guilty or sad
  • feeling mentally or physically unable to cope
  • constant crying or feeling teary
  • loss of interest in activities that would normally be enjoyed
  • withdrawing from family and friends

Offer practical support

All new parents need practical help and support, especially parents who are experiencing postnatal depression.

Remember, taking care of a baby is a shared job and helping each other out will ensure your family can thrive.

Here are a few practical ways to help your partner during this time:

  • Accept help from family and friends. You can also let people know that your family needs extra support right now and suggest what they can do to help.
  • Take more control of household chores if your partner is physically exhausted such as doing the laundry or cooking meals.
  • If your partner is feeling overwhelmed, take the baby out for a walk so they can have some alone time.
  • Don’t offer unwanted advice, listen and let your partner open-up about how they are feeling. Try to be gentle and encouraging.
  • Help to maintain connection with family and friends, even if it is limited to phone and video calls due to COVID-19.
  • Look after your own physical and mental health, this will help you to be the best support for your partner.

Seeking professional help

It can be hard for a new parent to admit that they are not coping and they may feel guilty and frustrated. Organisations such as St John of God Raphael Services offer free confidential treatment and support to parents to overcome the emotional challenges of early parenthood.
St John of God Health Care
Anthony Harrington - Mental health nurse

Anthony Harrington is a credentialed mental health nurse with more than 26 years’ experience and is the St John of God Raphael Services National Coordinator.