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Barriers to seeking help for postnatal depression

By understanding the barriers, we can break through the barriers together.

Looking back, I wonder, why didn’t I seek out help earlier?

Now I know why.

Postnatal depression (PND) is debilitating. Plus, it’s a cruel twist to those of us who look forward to motherhood, only to find ourselves in a bottomless pit of despair, offset only by the painful peaks of anxiety.

But it’s not just the paralysing nature of postnatal depression that acts as a barrier to seeking help. There are more hurdles in the way.

It’s our job as a community to break down these barriers for the sake of new parents, their babies, and their families.

Let’s look at four of the key barriers to seeking help

Self Stigma

I had a voice inside my head that said I am not a good enough mother. Good parents don’t get PND, do they?

I remember feeling irritable and hopeless. I was scared to be alone with my baby, and, at my worst, I was experiencing intrusive thoughts.

After I sought treatment, I learned what I was feeling and what I was thinking were symptoms of postnatal depression. And with the appropriate treatment, I would recover. I learnt that I am not a bad parent for having these symptoms.

Together we can help end the stigma by learning about self-stigma and by having open conversations to encourage early help-seeking.

So what is self-stigmatisation? It occurs when people internalise the stigmas that exist in our society towards PND. They deeply feel like they’ve embodied every negative attitude the public may have about PND, leading to even more significant lack of self-esteem. And as you can imagine, it’s a downward spiral.      

The way to challenge self-stigma is to promote personal empowerment. It’s time to put an end to stigma.

Social stigma

“crazy” “bonkers” “loony” “psycho”

When we engage in negative stereotypes of postnatal depression or any other mental health condition, the result is discrimination. 

We all have a role to play in creating a more inclusive society and one that supports recovery.  We can do this by learning about the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression and sharing them amongst family, friends, and colleagues. We can avoid using stigmatising language around postnatal depression or any other mental health condition. We can speak up when we hear people around us, making stereotypical comments.

Social stigma is harmful as it can stop a person from getting the help they need. Let’s encourage early help-seeking by being more mindful of our words.


I just kept trudging on, wearing my fake smile in public. I didn’t realise it was postnatal depression.

Do you know what postnatal depression looks like? What symptoms might you look out for?  What support services exist to support new and expecting parents?

Lack of knowledge and awareness means less recognition of the symptoms. This delays any referrals to appropriate services.

When family, local services, and workplaces lack awareness of postnatal depression, they simply can’t offer the support a new parent needs. And this becomes another barrier to help-seeking.

Sociocultural differences

We are a culturally diverse nation. And with that comes many varied cultural values and expectations.

Cultural diversity impacts many aspects of mental health conditions, ranging from how postnatal depression is perceived to help-seeking behaviours.  Some may seek help early, and others may delay to protect family, and perhaps because of the distrust of mental health systems.

Being aware that we all view mental wellbeing and mental health challenges differently is vital.

What can we do?

The great news is, we’ve already started working on these four key barriers within the PND community.

Now it’s time to spread the knowledge further – into organisations and businesses that wouldn’t usually think, “we need to deal with postnatal depression.”  Organisations and businesses are the workplaces of our new parents and home to colleagues and peers who play a vital role in breaking down each barrier.

Let’s work together to break down these barriers.


More information

Smiling After PND runs workshops about postnatal depression from the lived experience perspective. Josephine Smyth starts honest conversations. She sheds light on the PND experience that we simply don’t discuss enough. Contact Smiling After PND to discuss how Josie can help your organisation support PND sufferers. 

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