Mental Health First Aid

Recognising the signs of anxiety in others

This website isn’t just for those with anxiety. New mums often struggle to help themselves. They may not even recognise what they’re experiencing. But the sooner someone who is experiencing changes in their mental health is given help, the greater the chance of recovery.

For that reason, husbands, wives, partners, family, friends and colleagues should always be on alert for the mental health of someone who is pregnant or who has recently become a new mum. Looking out for changes in their behaviour and their reactions. Be aware that this can be difficult. New mums are inevitably excruciatingly tired, overwhelmed and emotional. But if you are close to someone, you will know when things ‘aren’t normal’. Particularly if this behaviour is continuing for a long period of time.

What to look out for

Are they avoiding social events when normally they would jump at the chance to make new friends? Are they confused, forgetful and frustrated when they would usually be organised and efficient? Or are they overly fussy, constantly checking their child and worrying about the state of their house, when normally they would be relaxed and easy going?

Paula Power is the owner of My White Dog. A mental health first aid awareness training academy where adults and young people can learn about the signs and symptoms to recognise mental health challenges in themselves and others and challenge the stigma surrounding this. She is also an NLP Practitioner.

She says we need to support and encourage new mums to talk, to ask for help if they need it and then signpost them towards the help that is available. Think about who could they talk to – who do they trust?

Paula Power

Mental Health First Aid, My White Dog

“If you think about the significant changes which have taken place through pregnancy and childbirth, new mums experience a huge lifestyle change which can impact how they feel and perhaps leave them feeling overwhelmed. We aren’t really given much of a heads up, before we give birth, in terms of the potential emotional and behavioural and physical impacts that can occur.

We are all different. But as a result of genetics, our support network, and our level of resilience – these changes can create a feeling of vulnerability and anxiety which can trigger mental health conditions. We can plan to some extent – physically and environmentally but how it will affect our mental health is not known. And we should not isolate those who have had previous mental health challenges. The NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines talk about how some common anxiety disorders and depression are under recognised throughout pregnancy and the postnatal period. We all respond differently under stress and in trauma, but the key here is to feel confident to offer help and support which could make the difference towards someone’s recovery.”

How should we act?

“Having a non judgemental approach to supporting someone and finding out more about how they are feeling is vital. Asking questions like ‘you don’t seem like yourself’, and ‘what can I do to help you right now?’. Building a relationship and trust is really important. This may already exist between a husband and wife, but also friends, family and colleagues can therefore help. One of the reasons we don’t always ask for help is because we are either not aware of any change but also because we have a fear of not coping or being stigmatised – which is sadly really common. 

“Checking in is important – just asking these questions. You’re not going to be able to diagnose but the first step in supporting someone is establishing what they need. They may just want to know that someone is there and willing to support them. That feeling of isolation over a long period of time is a great trigger for mental health issues so the sooner help is given the greater the chance of recovery.”

What are the barriers to someone asking for help?

“A feeling of vulnerability, and not knowing where to go. These can both be really debilitating. Protection can be a coping mechanism. But also stigma is huge in our society and culture so the feeling of not coping as a mum can feel really debilitating and they may not want to risk asking for help. Or perhaps they are not aware that anything is wrong. In which case it may be difficult to engage with them. Whatever the barriers – as a partner being patient and supportive can make a difference to the wellbeing and potential recovery of a mum. Telling them to snap out of it may create more anxiety, more isolation and less hope.

“Instead encourage new mums to ask for additional help, signpost them and support them – think about who can they talk to and who do they trust? If they disagree with getting help, that’s ok you can’t force someone to get help but you can encourage them to talk to you when they are ready. Build trust during this vulnerable time for them. It may just be practical help that makes a difference – encouraging a break for them, taking away some of their responsibility, reducing overwhelm when looking after a baby is fundamental. We can’t know all of the answers or get it right all of the time. So be easy on yourself as well.” 

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