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4 signs of postpartum depression, and how you can help

The recent death of a Canadian mom believed to be suffering from postpartum depression has resurfaced the question — how can we help?
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

It's a tragedy that happens all too often — a mom suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) takes her own life.

It happened recently to Florence Leung, a 32-year-old mom from British Columbia, Canada. After being reported missing in late October 2016, Leung, the mother of a 2-month-old boy, was found dead in a body of water near her home on November 17. According to a report in the Vancouver Sun, Leung is believed to have been suffering from PPD.

A Facebook page started by Leung's family encourages those dealing with PPD to seek help.

"Since my Flo has been found, our whole family is devastated and grieving right now," Leung's husband, Kim Chen wrote in a post. "Though we are now planning to say goodbye to Florence...I will continue to post occasional updates of how I want to remember my wife, and information advocating awareness for post-partum depression."

Katherine Stone is founder and CEO of Postpartum Progress, a non-profit organization that offers support and resources for women dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety. Stone says in most PPD cases like Leung's, family and friends are not to blame.

"They really don't know, and I feel so bad for them — I can only imagine that they might feel somehow at fault or like they could have done something after the fact," Stone told TODAY. "I think many of these people feel a sense of guilt, but that's the last thing they should feel — it's not their fault."

RELATED: 9 things I wish I'd known about postpartum depression

Stone, who dealt with PPD herself after the birth of her first child, says it's important for those close to a woman who has recently given birth to be aware of the signs of postpartum depression.

1. Extreme anxiety or worry

Irrational fears that won't go away or that increase in severity over time can be a sign of PPD, says Stone.

"Seeming worried all the time about harm coming to the baby, for example," said Stone. "In my case, I couldn't bathe my son because I was worried he would drown."

2. Acting withdrawn

If a new mom is consistently acting closed off, or is less open and communicative than normal, Stone says it's important to consider the possibility of postpartum depression.

"If she's not communicating like before and seems sort of closed down — that's something we can all see in people if we start paying attention," said Stone.

3. Feelings of rage

Stone says some moms who have had PPD express feeling a deep anger that stunned even themselves and left them feeling constantly irritable.

"Look for signs like flying off the handle and demonstrating anger in ways that they maybe never have before," said Stone.

4. A change in eating or sleep habits

"If someone has just completely changed their habits — they're eating way more than they used to or they're not eating at all — that's a concern," said Stone.

Stone says if a new mother is exhausted, but cannot fall asleep when given the opportunity to nap or rest, this may be a sign of a bigger issue.

"Rest is everything," said Stone. "Sleep is so important, so if she's not able to get that, there may be a problem."

postpartum depression
Stone says there are four changes in behavior that could indicate a new mom is suffering from postpartum depression.Alamy Stock

Stone says those who suspect a loved one is dealing with PPD should offer a listening ear and be willing to help in whatever way necessary.

"That's not just asking how the baby is, or how is it going taking care of the baby," said Stone. "It's asking, 'How are you doing? How can I help you get more rest? What can I do for you?'"

Stone says even when a new mother refuses help, it's important to help her get enough rest and enough time alone — offering to help with the baby while they nap or go for a peaceful walk, for example.

"And, instead of saying, 'You're acting crazy,' say, 'You're probably going to think this is weird for me to even say, but there are things called postpartum depression and anxiety and they're really common,'" says Stone, adding that a list of symptoms of PPD are available on the Postpartum Progress website, and can be a helpful tool for reading through with a loved one.

RELATED: 25 things not to say to mothers with postpartum depression

Stone cautions that often, women are afraid to talk about their feelings of depression and anxiety, and are worried that admitting their struggles will result in having their baby taken away or being criticized by their peers or family members.

Also, it's important to remind new moms that their feelings are normal, and that help is available.

"It can be hard. And, just because it's hard or you're maybe not as happy as you thought you would be doesn't mean you're a bad parent," said Stone.

But what if the person you're reaching out to refuses help?

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Before giving up, Stone advises concerned friends and family to consider calling the pediatrician or obstetrician, or enlisting the help of other people the new mom is listening to.

"Sometimes we try the only thing we know and when it doesn't work, we think all is lost," said Stone. "But that's not the case. The point is — don't give up and seek the counsel of other people who know how to help your partner."

Stone suggests utilizing online support groups, lists of local resources and other information provided at Postpartum Progress, adding that the anonymity of the Internet can often help moms share their stories and reach out to others for help.

"No, you cannot prevent every single thing like this," said Stone. "But, I think we could prevent a lot more of it."

"Put her at the center — whoever you are — and say, 'I'm not sure what other support you have, but I'm here, and I want to help.'"

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).