"I felt like I’d failed, and that I should have known. I beat myself up for a long time about it but I did eventually seek help for myself, and I got some counselling, which really helped."

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Taking care of yourself when your partner has PP

Finding yourself in this situation is a shock. You may need help dealing with the sudden change in your relationship with your partner. Looking after your partner and family is a lot to cope with.

It is particularly difficult when the person you normally rely on for support is your partner, but she cannot be there for you. Parenthood is something everyone grows into over time and most people make mistakes along the way. However, you must now cope with an ill partner as well as adjusting to parenthood. These are both difficult tasks.

Here are some tips from other partners on taking care of yourself when your partner has PP:

  • Taking care of yourself when your partner has PPVisit as often as you can – short visits are ok and can be better to start with for both of you. Emotionally, it may be hard on you to visit your partner, especially as it can be hard to predict how she’ll be feeling and behaving. Short visits also allow your partner more time for sleep and rest. It’s ok sometimes to go and just spend time with your baby.
  • Make sure you rest and take care of yourself. Looking after yourself helps you to have the energy to care for your partner and baby. Many dads find that taking an hour or so a week away from hospital visiting, baby care and work is vital for their own health and wellbeing. Find out what helps to take your mind off things – it might be a bike ride, doing some work, catching up with a friend, or doing things around the house. Whatever works for you.
  • Most importantly: ask for help - don’t feel you have to go it alone. It’s a difficult time for all new parents, and most new parents don’t have to cope with what you are going through.

"It’s hard to admit that you need outside, professional help but make sure you let somebody else in. You don’t have to do it alone."

Ask for help

  • Friends and family often really want to know how to help – you could ask them to support you in practical ways like making meals or keeping people updated on your partner and baby.
  • Talk to the health professionals supporting your partner and ask if there is a carer’s support worker available to you.
  • Talk to your Midwife or Health Visitor if you need support with baby care and bonding with your baby.
  • Homestart provides volunteers who can offer practical support to families going through challenging times.
  • Family lives offer a helpline and parenting advice website.
  • Have a look at our information on how we can support you.

"At 1am I phoned my best mate who lived 30 minutes away. His wife was at my front door 45 minutes later. She was wonderful. She phoned the hospital and got a duty midwife to call with supplies of formula. She swept up the broken glass and shattered crockery and, most importantly, made me a cup of tea."

Managing work

As soon as your partner has been admitted to hospital, or begun treatment at home for PP, it may be worth letting your employer know.

It’s really normal to feel worried about work, and the possible impact of time off on your finances after your paternity leave ends. However, your employer has a responsibility to look after your health and wellbeing and a period of paid sick leave, compassionate leave or unpaid parental leave should be negotiable.

If you do have to return to work after a period of leave it is worth also asking for a 'phased return to work' – i.e. if you can work fewer hours for the first 2-3 weeks and build up slowly to your normal workload.

If your partner is in a Mother & Baby Unit with your baby, and you do not have other children to care for, you may find that working some hours can be helpful. Some people find that having something to focus on at work is therapeutic and helps them to retain a sense of control and normality.

"I was offered a sick note, though I never used it. If you do then I suppose it depends on who you work for and what their sickness pay is and for how long. I found going to work helped get me back to what I knew and, to a degree, took my mind off things."

  • Parental leave entitlements are explained here.
  • Sick leave and doctors ‘fit notes’ are explained here.
  • Emergency time off to care for dependants is explained here.
  • Turn2Us is an organisation that can help individuals access financial help.

Telling family and friends

It's worth giving yourself a bit of time to think before you call anyone. Conversations with family members may be difficult. It can be hard for people to accept that a person close to them is mentally ill. It's especially hard as you have just had a new baby. You might find that people are expecting to hear about your joy and happiness.

You will probably want to speak to your own and your partner's family members as close together in time as possible. Try and encourage people not to call the hospital or your partner directly, but to wait for updates from you. You could do this by email or text if it gets difficult fielding calls from everyone.

After the initial calls, you could ask a trusted friend or family member to pass on further messages for you.

Things to consider before you call:

  • Who do you need to support you?
  • What practical support can they offer you e.g. cooking meals, letting other people know, offering childcare, helping with housework?
  • Who needs to know everything?
  • Who needs to know a bit?
  • Who would you like them to tell?
  • Does your partner want any visitors yet?
  • How can you explain that your partner is really unwell and may say or do strange things?

Resources for friends and family so you don’t have to answer all the questions:

  • Direct friends and family to our information to help them understand more about PP.
  • Our PPTalk forum: friends and family are welcome to ask about the experiences of other women and partners who have been through PP.
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists' leaflet on PP.

"The pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital."

Staying well in the future

People recover from distressing experiences in different ways. Some need to talk about it, others want to ‘move on’ and ‘get on with it’. You may find that you and your partner have similar or completely different ways of dealing with what you’ve been through.

Work together where you can, but bear in mind that you may both need individual support from friends and family or perhaps through counselling.

It can take time to deal with the difficult emotions that have been part of your partner’s illness and recovery. It’s important not to rush her and to be sensitive to her feelings.

The experience of going through PP does not need to be ‘done and dusted’. It may feel difficult to accept, but you won’t be able to control how long your partner takes to get over her illness.

If you can be available to talk to each other regularly, it’s less likely that the big issues will be swept under the carpet and never talked about.

"A year later, with Laura feeling fully recovered, I almost completely sank. I started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks – something I’d never experienced before."

A partner's perspective on PP

Watch Simon, APP's Partner Peer Support Facilitator in conversation with Dad Matters UK.