Should you tell your boss about your postnatal depression?

Let's give a hand to mothers with postnatal depression
Let's give a hand to mothers with postnatal depression Photo: Ian Hooton

Returning to work after having a baby can be daunting, and when you're experiencing postnatal depression or anxiety it can seem even more overwhelming.

"Just as everyone's experience of parenting is unique, everyone's experience of postnatal depression is also unique," says Terri Smith, CEO of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA).

"For many people, going back to work after having a child is very challenging. For others it's a positive experience, particularly for those who identify positively with their careers and have been struggling being at home full-time. It can break the cycle."

As your return to work gets closer, it's important to think about how you feel about it. There might be some aspects that you're looking forward to, and others that you're nervous or worried about.

 It's also worth considering whether you want to tell your workplace about your depression or anxiety.

There is no legal obligation for you to tell your employer about your struggles unless it will impact on the health and safety of yourself or others, however it may be beneficial to consider talking about it.

"Concentration and memory can be compromised, so going back into the workplace can be extra challenging," says Smith. "You might feel overwhelmed or depression can impact on your confidence."

Disclosing your experience can help you to access help with flexible work arrangements or counselling through an employee assistance program (EAP), or enable those you work with to understand and support you.

"If you're returning to work and there are people who haven't seen you for a while, it's common that you need to manage their expectations," says Smith.

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"They're likely to be greeting you back at work thinking you've had a really joyful time, so it can be a bit confronting if you've been struggling through that."

There are also some reasons you might choose not to talk about it at work. Some people don't disclose their depression or anxiety because they don't want their colleagues to know, or may be worried about how others will take it.

If your workplace isn't supportive towards mental health, it might be worth considering keeping it to yourself or telling just a few trusted people.

PANDA offers this advice for those returning to work with postnatal depression or anxiety:

Plan ahead

"It's really important to plan how you're going to deal with disclosure or not when you return to work," says Smith. "It's a very personal thing and you need to make your own decision. Maybe think about telling a few trusted people for some support."

Find your support networks

This is the time you need people to look out for you and support you.

Smith suggests, "Put supports in place, at work and outside of work. Who are the people and what are the experiences that really help you? This might mean seeing a counsellor, exercising, taking medication and/or adjusting your diet. You need to keep doing the things that are helping you recover."

Don't go it alone

When you're returning to work, life as a parent can be extra demanding. "Ask for help at home and accepting it when it's offered," Smith says. "Acknowledge that you've had a tough time and you really deserve to be supported through this next transition."

Monitor your mental health

"Continue to check in with yourself and your support network, and keep an eye out that you're doing okay," Smith suggests.

If you're struggling or want to talk please contact PANDA.