Those who are familiar with anti-depressants know that it can be a frustrating treatment at times. Typically it takes 3 – 6 weeks to kick in. For many folks, if the pill is the right prescription, they may feel gradually better over time. For others, they can bottom out before feeling better or even feel numb until all of a sudden: BAM! and they’re back to themselves. That’s assuming of course the prescription is the right one.
There are many different treatment options and they all have different side effects. But one thing is common: none of them work immediately, unless you add a supplemental “as needed” type of medication such as Ativan.
So how do you get through those three weeks or so until the medication starts to set in?
- Exercise with a buddy: Exercise is frequently touted as something that can help people with depression. However, note that I’ve outlined this step as exercise WITH a buddy. The problem with depression is that there is an underlying level of fatigue that makes it very difficult to get out of the house. A buddy can help hold a struggling mother accountable and push her to get out the door. This may not always work if the depression is particularly bad (this happened often during the worst parts of my postpartum depression). However, having someone to help push a struggling depressed mother can increase the likelihood that the mother will get out and move around. Exercise is a temporary fix during postpartum depression but it can help a depressed mother get through the afternoon or at least provide a few hours of reprieve.
- Talk therapy: Talk therapy is a must. First of all, having a licensed expert who can monitor how the drug is working is critical to assessing treatment. The talk therapist can help identify if perhaps an alternate treatment is good or can provide unbiased opinion as to whether the depressed mother seems to be improving. Often the depressed mother may not see improvement initially. Secondly, the therapist is an unbiased third party who can help a struggling mother with perspective and mindfulness. Like exercise, this is a temporary fix, but it can help the struggling mother get through those tough weeks while waiting for the medication to sink in.
- Support Groups: Along the vein of talk therapy, support groups create a space where mothers can talk about their struggles in an unfiltered environment. Sometimes just the recognition that other women are going through the same struggle is calming and provides comfort. This can also provide temporary relief.
- Working Towards a Plan: The act of working on a plan, assessing your progress and reevaluating your plan to recovery can often bring a sense of peace. It may help to outline a plan of attack; it gives a sense of productivity and direction that can help combat the helplessness that the struggling mother feels during the throws of postpartum depression.
- Find That Cheerleader: The struggling mother will need someone to help her push through the pain. Depression has the unfortunate consequence of many women drawing away from other people. This is why a cheerleader is necessary. I can not stress how incredibly important this was. This is why support groups are often critical. The struggling mother needs to find a friend through the support groups or find someone online that they can trade stories and lean on each other when things get really low.
- Work on Losing Guilt: It’s critical for the struggling mother to rely on her partner, her family and anyone who will help her out. This is obviously much easier to say than do, but there’s a couple of things to tell the struggling mother during this time:
- “This period of time does not reflect on you as a mother”
- “You carried the baby and gave birth. It’s OK to lean on your partner to get you through this.”
- “This is fleeting. It will pass. It will change and become different in ways that you can’t even understand.”
- “You have plenty of time to bond and build a relationship with your baby – when you’re better.”
Please note that these are not intended to be treatment options for postpartum depression. They are only to help struggling mothers get through that waiting period before the treatment begins to work.
Also note: be aware that if you are dealing with postpartum depression, you should never settle. Don’t settle for, “I feel better but am still dealing with anxiety, etc.”. The goal for a treatment plan should be to get back to feeling like yourself. If you still don’t feel like yourself and your doctors aren’t listening to you – you need to see another doctor. Motherhood is amazing when you have the energy to do it. The biggest thing I hear from women who have conquered postpartum depression is:
“I wish I had sought treatment earlier and not lost this time.”