As a pastor of a congregation with young families you may have small groups, a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) ministry, Awana, and more. Your church may also be blessed to have a meals ministry to help individuals and families after a surgery or birth of a child. Your church is probably well equipped with support ministries for families to help disciple their children and to provide encouragement and teaching for parents.
But how equipped are you to minister to families experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety?
Did you know that 1 in 5 women will experience maternal depression and/or anxiety? That’s a lot of women. And it’s something that can impact fathers and families just as severely.
Have you ever had a conversation with the mother of a newborn or young child go like this?
- I don’t know why am I feeling so angry. It’s not like me to scream at my loved ones.
- I am so exhausted and yet I’m not sleeping. My mind won’t turn off.
- Why am I not totally in love with my new baby? This is supposed to be the most amazing thing a woman can experience.
- I feel so alone. I keep crying. I feel hopeless.
- I’ve started having some really scary thoughts. Thoughts mothers aren’t supposed to have about their babies. I’m so ashamed of what I’m thinking, I can’t tell anyone.
What would you tell this woman? How do you respond in a compassionate and supportive way?
This woman may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA). For each person the symptoms will look different, as will the treatment plan. Women who’ve experienced miscarriage or loss of a baby may also experience PPD. The same goes for adoptive parents.
You don’t have to be an expert on the topic, but there are three key things you as a pastor or church leader can do to stand alongside as a proactive community ready to support those impacted by these perinatal mood disorders:
- Be informed
- Be connected
- Be available
1. Be informed
Know the signs. You may be thinking, “I didn’t have a class on PPD in seminary; what am I supposed to do?” Most people are not well informed on the topic unless it has impacted them directly. For example, perhaps your wife or sister experienced PPD when she was pregnant or after having a baby.
Here’s the thing, no one is expecting you to be an expert on the topic, but as a shepherd of God’s people, it’s incredibly helpful to know how to direct them in this time of need should they come to you for help. You are not being asked to diagnose, but to be able to point women and families in the right direction for solid counseling and support who may be experiencing symptoms that line up with PPD or other postpartum mood disorders. There are some free resources available to you as a pastor to train you to spot symptoms. A great place to start is with the free webinar Maternal Mental Health 101 by Postpartum Support International and 2020 Mom. Professional organizations like these, while not explicitly Christian, are very useful in helping pastors and lay leaders get trained and informed on what PPD actually is.
2. Be connected
Familiarize yourself with the available maternal mental health (MMH) resources in your community, and connect with area Christian counselors and Christian psychiatrists. The reality here is that few counselors have been specially trained in MMH, a disappointing fact but one that is changing for the better. There are also few Christian resources on this topic. Do your best to vet qualified counselors and psychiatrists so that you have quality recommendations to give. Also seek to connect with local MMH support groups as well as online support.
Invest in developing mentoring couples to minister to the couple as they are on this journey. If your church doesn’t already have a meals ministry, pray for God to raise up a coordinator to do so or utilize a crowdsourcing tool like Meal Train. The basic meal service is free, but you can also pay to include cleaning, child care, and errands to the calendar of needs for the family. This investment in local and online resources is a way to develop and extend the hands and feet of Jesus through the body of Christ during what can be a difficult and scary time.
3. Be available
Lastly, amid all the busyness of caring for our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we can forget to just be with people. Meet with the couple as needed but also have elders, elder wives, deacons, and other lay leaders who can check on the couple, visit with them (as they are able/comfortable), pray with them, and provide other encouragement: Watch their kids for an hour. Do a load of laundry for them. Bring them dinner with paper plates and plasticware included so they don’t have to worry about getting the dishes done later. Go for a walk while visiting, if that’s an option. Remind them of the hope they have in Christ. Let them know that they are not alone and that it’s okay to be scared; things will get better with treatment, care, and time.
The journey through postpartum mood disorders can range in length and difficulty. It truly takes a community of care to minister to those impacted. But what a great opportunity for the people of God to demonstrate loving biblical care by serving and caring for those who often suffer in silence with their PPD. Help destigmatize PPD by talking about it. Have other women leaders talk about it in Sunday school, at MOPS and women’s Bible studies. If this sounds overwhelming, then you are in the right place, but do not fear, the Lord is with you to guide you as you seek to guide those He has entrusted into your care.
Robin Barnes is also the author of How Discipleship Ministries Enhance Counseling Outcomes. This article explores “what’s next” after a person concludes his or her formal time in counseling and answers the question: How do you you ensure counselees will continue building on what they’ve learned and will have access to the support they need?