Support for Coworkers

Support for Co-Workers of the Affected

After a woman goes on maternity leave or leaves a workplace to have her baby, many co-workers are left wondering about the health of the new mother and her baby. When it is learned that the new mother is suffering from postpartum depression, many co-workers feel worried and concerned for the health of the mother and wonder how they can best offer support.

If your co-worker is currently struggling with postpartum depression, here is some guidance to follow as to how to best support her during this difficult time.

Before She Returns to Work

If your co-worker is presently on maternity leave and you know she is struggling with postpartum depression, you may find it challenging to know how to support her.

Many women may be conscious of a potential stigma surrounding women with postpartum depression. Because of this perceived stigma, women with postpartum depression may be reluctant to share too much about their struggle with their co-workers out of fear, guilt or shame.

To help support her and ease her possible feelings of guilt or shame, here are some tips for encouraging your co-worker with postpartum depression:

  • Assure her that her work will still be waiting when she returns
  • Only provide updates about work if she asks
  • Don’t overwhelm her with work talk
  • Designate one person to communicate with her while she is recovering or take turns
  • Remember that recovery takes a long time, so if she doesn’t return to work when planned continue to support her decision

Because your relationship with your co-worker is primarily work-oriented, it will seem natural or normal to want to continue to talk about work with her. But remember that the postpartum period is a time for recovery, especially when the woman is facing depression. Discussing work and responsibilities can only further add stress to the new mother as she recovers.

For co-workers, it’s important to understand the nature of postpartum depression and that her symptoms are the result of her condition and are not a reflection of her.

When She Returns to Work

When your co-worker returns to work after her maternity leave is finished, she may still be experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. She may choose to share her struggle with select co-workers or she may choose to keep it to herself.

Regardless of how she shares her postpartum depression symptoms, it’s important to continue to support and engage her in the workplace. As her co-worker, you may notice residual postpartum depression symptoms or you may notice that she is feeling happy to be back at work and return to a job that she enjoys.

Many women choose to return to work before being fully recovered from postpartum depression as a way to take their minds off of their condition and find a purpose outside of being a mother. In some cases this helps improve her condition and in some cases it may worsen it.

Even if a woman feels she is fully recovered and returns to work, it’s possible for her to experience a relapse of postpartum depression after she takes on the responsibilities of work again.

Here are some ways for co-workers to support a woman with postpartum depression after she returns to work:

  • Listen to her and offer sympathy if she opens up about her struggles
  • Avoid passing judgement or questioning her ability to handle her job
  • Treat her the same as you did before she went on maternity leave
  • Refrain from asking too many personal questions if she isn’t yet ready to open up about her condition

Ultimately, it’s important for co-workers to offer support by trusting that the mother is doing what’s best for herself and her family. Postpartum depression is a long-term condition and so it will take time for it to completely go away. With ongoing support and care from the people around her, she will eventually be able to make a full recovery.

References:

  1. http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2009/08/24/returning-to-work-after-postpartum-depression/
  2. http://www.womensagenda.com.au/guilt-free-zone/health/item/2740-postnatal-depression-the-signs-and-what-to-do-if-your-colleague-is-suffering
  3. http://payoo.net/employee-postpartum-depression/