Preventing postnatal depression – the employers’ guide

3 minutes reading time

One in six women experience postnatal depression after giving birth, but three quarters of these women suffer in silence.

Recent studies by the NHS reveal that most women choose to not talk about their symptoms in fear of being labelled a ‘bad mother’. Only one in four cases of postnatal depression are diagnosed and treated.

There is plenty of publicly available information on ways to prevent postnatal depression. Adjusting one’s lifestyle, making dietary changes and early screening are just some of the suggestions that one can expect to come across.

But even after taking all the suggested measures, there are risk factors that may be beyond an individual’s control. With more and more women choosing to stay in full time employment, whilst also taking on motherhood, the question of whether employers have a part to play in preventing, or least reducing the risk of, postnatal depression is a pertinent one.

If my own experience is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes.

My struggle with pre and postnatal depression was more prolonged than for the average sufferer. I had no idea I was ill at the time and therefore struggled for several months without a diagnosis.

My illness eventually deteriorated into clinical depression and I had a full blown breakdown at work in front of my boss and colleagues. To say I was mortified by the experience would be an understatement.

And on top of that, I blamed myself for the way I was feeling which only served to intensify the trauma.

These types of incidents are not rare. Thankfully, employers are finally starting to take the mental health of their workforce seriously. Initiatives such as Employee Assistance Programmes and Mental Health First Aid training, which I became qualified in myself and regularly provide to both colleagues and clients of my current employer, are extremely beneficial. Mental Health First Aiders especially can provide vital education and resources and point colleagues in the direction of appropriate professional support such as counselling services before an individual takes leave.

During maternity leave, employers should ensure to stay in touch with the employee and provide regular updates on the business which may affect them. On returning to work, I had been informed that we had a new IT system in place. My colleagues had had a three-day training course on it and unlike me, became well acquainted with it fairly quickly. There was no warning given to me when I was away from their office that there would be such an important development taking place and it subsequently affected my productivity.

Employers should ensure to communicate changes within the company in order for an individual to have a smooth transition back into working life with minimal disruption.

In a similar vein, it is prudent for employers to manage expectations for returning to work before maternity leave begins. This eases the pressure on the employee to perform at full capacity as soon as they return. Employers should be sensitive to the fact that the individual has had a huge permanent life change which is taking up a lot of their emotional energy.

New mothers and their spouses are under a great deal of mental and emotional stress after giving birth. In my case, I worked miserably for 12 months – then I found out I was pregnant, again.  I had a miscarriage the second time around and although the loss was difficult to bear, in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened given my mental state. Having kind and trustworthy colleagues was essential to getting me through that time.

Assuring confidentiality, being approachable and being mindful of an employee’s circumstances is something many employers may take for granted. My experience proves that it goes a very long way.

Early intervention is key in helping with recovery. In my situation, due to the lack of early detection and the rapid deterioration of my condition, I had to be out of the business for several months. Not having a structure or routine did not help my cause. I felt worthless and like I had nothing to get up for in the morning. Combine that with separation anxiety and isolation and I was on a very slippery slope.

Fast forward to today…

It’s been 8 years since my depression and I have made a full recovery. But stories like mine need not be repeated. Mental health education for employees and employers can help sufferers get the treatment they need as soon as possible. But building mental health resilience in the workplace is of utmost priority. Given the tools now available, there is no excuse for any business to not place this at the top of their employee wellbeing agenda.

About the author

Lorna is a qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist Practitioner, Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Head of Mental Health risk management for Marsh.

After experiencing a mental health illness, Lorna chose to dedicate herself to supporting organisations in raising awareness of mental health. She is passionate about the role organisations can play in preventing mental health difficulties. Utilising her own and others’ experiences, Lorna provides a unique and people-centred approach to help organisations navigate mental health and wellbeing matters.

Today, Lorna works for Marsh and specialises in the implementation of mental health strategies as well as the provision of mental training. She is adept at producing bespoke courses/content and is a regular speaker at industry events.

Lorna is a champion of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and has over 12 years’ professional experience.

Also by Lorna Feeney

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