What affected mothers need most of all is attention; people, who are there, who listen and who try to understand.
All negative remarks and feelings should be taken seriously, never played down or judged. The depressive mother is suffering heavily from it! Her lack of energy and her hopelessness are symptoms of her illness. Appealing to the woman's sense of responsibility or telling her to pull herself together will only increase her suffering because it increases her sense of guilt and further undermines her already heavily eroded self-esteem. She therefore needs praise and support instead.
Avoid quarrels as the affected mother's irritability and accusatory demeanour can also be symptoms of the illness.
Affected mothers should be relieved of as many everyday responsibilities as possible. Above all, they need rest, recovery and lots of sleep! But it is nonetheless important to encourage her to accept small tasks in a loving way. The point is to give the day a certain structure and to set "milestones" so that she can claw her way from one milestone to the next. Every day is painfully long for someone who is depressed and the patient should be pampered in every possible way: a warm bath, her favourite music, massages, a good book, walks, cinema, going swimming, going out for dinner. It should also be repeated over and again that she will get better and that there is a cure.
Supporting, caring for and supervising the depressive mother should be shared by as many people as possible: family, friends, and neighbours. Even small jobs, such as doing the laundry or taking the baby (and other children) out for a walk, can be very helpful. You can also seek the support of a home help, family or mother assistant, prescribed by a doctor if necessary, and every mother has the right to the support of a midwife up to the tenth day following the birth and then up to 16 further visits over the subsequent eight weeks. The doctor can prescribe more midwife visits if necessary.
Even if the patient is suffering from a loss of appetite, she still needs to eat a healthy, balanced diet and to be offered healthy snacks and drinks between meals.
Those caring for the woman may sometimes have to take important decisions on her behalf and to manage her affairs in a calm and assured manner, e.g. looking for doctors and therapists, organising visits to the doctor or self-help groups and accompanying her there, if she does not feel capable of going on her own.
If may be necessary to supervise the taking of medicine. Drugs must be taken regularly and in accordance with the prescription, even if the patient is already feeling better. The patient should certainly continue to take the medication at last until her recovery is complete, though it is better to continue taking the medicine for longer to avoid a relapse later.
Indications of suicide must be taken very seriously! Threatened suicide is always a cry for help. Most people who commit suicide have somehow given an indication of it beforehand. Even if suicidal thoughts are not expressed directly, there are normally small or large signs hinting to an intention to commit suicide. There is also the danger that the mother could "take the baby with her" because she feels responsible for her/him. Immediate medical and psychotherapeutic help is required in such cases.
In-patient treatment is sometimes imperative in order to save the lives of both mother and baby. It is necessary to speak openly with the depressive woman. This is unfortunately no longer possible in most cases of psychosis, as the women affected by this are rarely capable of reaching a decision themselves. She should nevertheless be informed in advance, as it is impossible to know how much she can still take in.
There will be ups and downs in the healing process and this is normal. Even if a patient reacts well to treatment, and her wellbeing has clearly improved, she will continue to experience downs. This is normal and no reason for feeling discouraged.
Members of a depressive mother's family should also try to speak about their experience with other people so that they can express their concerns, anxieties and stress. It is certainly helpful to talk to other family members of (formerly) affected women (see Contact list for affected mothers).
However, no guarantee can be offered for the completeness of the ideas listed above; the points listed here should be taken merely as suggestions.