Supporting your partner with anxiety or depression

Depression and anxiety can have a devastating effect on a new family. As well as denying parents the joy that’s expected to come with a new baby, this experience can wear couples down to the point that they feel like strangers. 

If your partner has depression or anxiety, it can be hard to know how to help. It might seem like nothing you try makes them feel any better, and you might end up feeling helpless and frustrated as a result. 

I didn’t know what was happening. She was a completely different person…Nothing I did helped...I felt completely bewildered and lost.

Know the signs

Becoming parents will be hard for a while as you learn the ropes. But if it stays too hard for too long and your partner is struggling to enjoy life with your baby, it’s important to do something about it.

When everything’s new and neither of you are sleeping much, it can be hard to tell what’s a ‘normal’ emotional reaction to the exhaustion and challenges of parenthood – and what might suggest your partner's experiencing anxiety or depression.

Some questions to ask yourself: 

  • How much they have turned against themselves? Are they saying things like “I’m a bad parent”, or “My life is terrible”? 
  • How negative is their outlook on the future? (“things will never get better”) 
  • How are they going with everyday life stuff? (e.g. household tasks, catching up with friends)
  • Has this been going on for more than two weeks? 

It can be hard for new mums to admit they’re not coping. Help your partner understand that anxiety and depression are common conditions, and not a sign of personal failure.

What you can do to help

  • Remember that you are a support person, not a health professional. You don’t have to know everything or provide advice – rather, focus on providing practical help and emotional support.
  • Be guided by your partner as to what sort of support they need. Accept that this will change – often from moment to moment.
  • Try to validate your partner’s experiences or worries and understand that these are very real for the person experiencing them. 
  • Don’t dismiss their feelings or concerns, even if you think these issues are not rational or in proportion to the situation.
  • It can be helpful to think of postnatal depression or anxiety as a crisis that, with support and treatment, will pass. This doesn’t mean that it’s not serious or distressing – but it doesn’t have to last forever.
  • Taking care of yourself and your own health is really important and will help you be the best support you can be for your partner. It’s important to recognise that this is hard on you too – you’re not superman. Get support for yourself if you need it. 

What to say

Reinforcing to your partner that they’re not alone and that it’s not their fault can help them move past feelings of shame and guilt, which is often an important step towards seeking professional support.

Try saying things like:

  • “You donʼt have to suffer – if it gets too hard, you can ask for support.”
  • “You’re not the only one – plenty of other women go through this.”
  • “This is something that’s happening to you. It’s not your fault – this is a health condition and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
  • “Depression and anxiety wonʼt go away on their own – you need to get support.”
  • “I’m here for you, and we can do this together. But if we leave it, the situation will get worse.”
  • “I understand that you can’t see how things can get better, but lots of women have gone through this and come out the other side.”

What not to do

Take things personally

People experiencing anxiety or depression can sometimes lash out at those closest to them, or say negative, hurtful things that they don’t necessarily mean. Recognise when the condition is talking and try not to take it on board.  

Make big life decisions

Now is not the best time to make big life decisions about things like your relationship, career or your house. There’s plenty of time to make changes in the future.

Try to fix things

You don’t need to solve every problem or always be ‘right’. It can be hard to put this aside, especially if you’re used to being the ‘fixer’, but don’t underestimate how helpful it can be to simply listen.   

Beat yourself up

When you do the wrong thing or get frustrated with each other, it’s easy to blame yourself. Try to stay on the same side in the battle against depression and anxiety. Accept that sometimes this won’t happen, but it’s how you repair things between you that’s more important.

Seeking support

Depression and anxiety in new mums rarely go away on their own. The encouraging news is that there’s a range of effective treatments and health professionals available to help. With the right support, your partner will recover and can get back to enjoying life.

If you’re not sure where to turn, the beyondblue Support Service and PANDA National Helpline can provide information and support to take the next step.

Mental health checklist for new mums

If your partner is struggling to cope with daily life, seems to have lost hope or is constantly beating themselves up, our checklist can help them get a better sense of how they’re feeling.

Based on their score, we’ll provide them with some next steps for taking care of themselves and seeking support.

Complete the checklist

Get immediate support

If the situation is urgent and you’re concerned that someone close to you is in immediate danger, don’t leave them alone. Call their doctor, a mental health crisis service, or go with them to your local hospital’s emergency department. In an emergency, always dial triple zero (000).