Perinatal anxiety and depression can affect any person and their family, regardless of culture, age, or socio-economic situation. While you can’t “fix” what your partner is going through, you can support them while they seek help and receive treatment. It’s important to remember that help is also available for you if you are finding the experience of supporting your partner stressful or challenging.
Impact on relationships and wellbeing
Perinatal anxiety and depression can impact enormously on all areas of wellbeing: physical, emotional and social. Overwhelm, exhaustion, loss of confidence, fear of leaving the house or being with other people can all take its toll. Relationships with partners, family and friends can be impacted.
The longer a parent experiencing mental health issues goes without seeking treatment, the more likely it is that their partner may experience changes to their mental health too.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope due to changes in your mental health, it can be difficult to find the patience and energy to connect with babies, children and loved ones. It’s difficult to parent if you are feeling agitated, unsettled or lacking in motivation. This is why seeking help early is so important.
It can be an unexpected shock if your partner is struggling with symptoms of perinatal anxiety or depression. Our culture portrays the pregnancy, birth and the perinatal period as a time of joy and elation. Most new parents, even if they don’t experience mental health challenges, will experience some degree of fatigue, overwhelm, irritability, stress and worry as they adjust to life as a parent.
If your partner is experiencing mental health challenges during pregnancy or early parenthood, you might feel:
Confused or uncertain about what to say or do to help
“I don’t know what to say in case I make things worse”
“Nothing I say or do seems to help!”
Frustrated and angry
“Why are they being like this when I am trying so hard?”
“It’s all too much”
“I have no idea how to relate to this experience.”
Unsure about how or when to help
“Am I interfering? Should I be helping more? Should I be letting them have space?”
A sense of loss
“When is my partner going to be their ‘old self’?”
A loss of support
“My partner and I were so close. I feel like they're no longer there for me.”
It’s important to remember that perinatal anxiety and depression are mental health disorders. Try not to take any out of character behaviour personally. We also encourage you to look after your own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, to ensure you’re in the best possible position to care for your partner and family during a challenging time.
Lots of parents feel uncertain about who they can talk to about what their partner is going through. We still have a long way to go to accepting mental health in the same way we deal with physical health. It’s a good idea to check in with your partner about how they feel about you telling other people.
It can help to remember that perinatal anxiety and/or depression are common.You might be surprised to find out who else has experienced mental health challenges during the transition to parenthood.
Practical strategies to support your partner
- Support their sleep: This might mean getting up to do night feeds, nappy changes and settling, or encouraging your partner to go to bed early while you put the baby and other children to bed.
- Assist your partner to seek help: Help them make appointments, drive them to appointments and attend as their support person if possible. If you can't care for your baby/children during your partner's appointments, arrange for a loved one to have the children to give your partner space to focus on their health care needs.
- Take on extra care of the baby or older children: This could mean taking the kids for an hour while your partner goes for a walk or has a rest.
- Do more around the house: Babies generate an increase in domestic work, including cleaning, laundry, food preparation, and “life admin” like family finances and making healthcare appointments. Managing these tasks can be a huge support to your partner.
- Cook meals to share, or spend some time preparing meals for the week (eg family dinners and school lunches for older children).
- Call on friends or family for help and support. They could do things like cook a meal, take the baby for a walk or just come over for a cup of tea and a chat.
- Encourage your partner to see friends and loved ones. Sometimes people experiencing mental health challenges find it hard to reach out to the people they love. Encourage your partner to catch up with their friends and family and do things that make them happy.
- Manage your own feelings and wellbeing. If your partner is experiencing mental health challenges and you find yourself feeling frustrated, irritable, resentful or overwhelmed, it's important to seek out support for your own mental health. Caregiver fatigue and burnout is common for partners caring for a loved one in mental health distress, but professional support is available.
Partners and carers can also call PANDA's Helpline if you need to talk to someone who understands.
Mental health checklist
How are you going?
Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be reason to seek help.
PANDA National Helpline
Find someone to talk to, Monday to Saturday.
1300 726 306
Call 000 for police and ambulance if you or someone else are in immediate danger
Talk with friends or family
Consider talking about how you are feeling with someone you trust. This might be a friend or family member. Once you starting talking you might be surprised at how many others have had similar experiences and the support they can provide you.
Talk with your doctor
Talking with your doctor can be an important step to getting the help you need. They should be able to give you non-judgemental support, assessment, diagnosis, and ongoing care and treatment. They can also refer you to specialists such as a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
Get help now
If you are having suicidal thoughts or are feeling disorientated it’s important to get help immediately. PANDA is not a crisis service, if you need immediate support call Lifeline 13 11 14 (24/7).