How To Create & Sustain A Postpartum Depression Support Group, Part 2

Share Button

Yesterday I started a 3-part series on how to create and sustain postpartum depression support groups. Today we continue with part 2, with tips from Wendy Davis.

Wendy Davis, Program Director of PSI and founding directorof Oregon’s Baby Blues Connection

First let me say that anyone who wants to start a support group should feel welcome to contact PSI to get ideas, materials and support. They can write or call me or their area PSI coordinators. They might also consider becoming a PSI member, or a volunteer, so they can receive training and support, and connect with other people facilitating groups and networks.

Most postpartum support groups struggle at some point with low attendance. However, those of us who have led groups continue to feel rewarded, even if the groups are small. We know that the existence of a supportive place to gather is essential, even if there are one or two people who come.

The first and most essential step to creating a consistent group is to make good connections in your community — with OB and pediatric providers, moms’ groups, families, public health, faith communities, hospitals, and other childbirth professionals. Find like-minded people who want to develop this network together. Make sure that your own knowledge and support system match your zeal to provide support to other women. Read Jane Honikman’s books, “Step by Step” and “I’m Listening”, and the companion book, the PSI Guidebook to Developing a Perinatal Support Network in Your Community. The guidebook has lots of ideas about sustaining warmlines and support groups and an appendix with samples from 11 different groups.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from PSI and Jane Honikman is that no warmline or postpartum depression support group can thrive without being connected with its surrounding community. It is from your own community that you will find supporters, referrals, resources, funds, and of course the families who need you. Sometimes people want to start a group and feel intimidated by “creating a network,” but it can be as simple as making calls to introduce yourself, having brief meetings, or bringing your fliers to providers and explaining what you’re doing.

Here are some other tips, once you’ve connected with others in your area:

  1. Create written materials to announce your group, and share with them providers and on bulletin boards. Have a telephone number people can call to ask questions about the group and put them on your written material.
  2. Talk to people on the phone before they come to group and after their first one, so they have a personal connection and can discuss concerns.
  3. Create group guidelines and follow up procedures so members feel secure about group process. Check in with group members between group meetings.
  4. Post it onMeetUp.com.
  5. Go back out and talk to providers, hospitals, moms’ groups, dads’ groups, childbirth educators.
  6. Get a little article in your local newspaper or parenting magazine.
  7. Offer free chocolate and free magazines.
  8. Consider finding somebody to donate childcare services where you meet.
  9. Link on websites for local parenting resources.
  10. Make sure your PSI area coordinator knows about your group.

Thanks Wendy! Watch for part 3 tomorrow!

Photo credit: © Cheryl Casey – Fotolia

Share Button
About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

Tell Us What You Think

Comments

  1. Thanks for putting this information on your blog Katherine! I am curious about how many of your readers went to a support group. I have thought about starting one but am a little hesistant. I talked to a colleague who stated that she did not have success with it so she created a stress reduction class for new moms which naturally unfolds into a support group after moms learn some techniques. I think the name PPD support group is intimidating for some new moms.

  2. Great series, Katherine! We've had a support group here in Raleigh for 12 years. It has gone through several versions and different meeting locations. We have found that meeting in a hospital setting or close by (currently, we meet in the lobby of an OB office that is adjacent to the Birth Center) has been the most successful location. Also, it is crucial to form connections with local healthcare providers, continue to remind them that YOU ARE STILL THERE, and make sure they have brochures about your group to give to moms. :)

  3. About 3 years ago I started talking with professionals in my area about starting a support group. One of them told me not to call it a support group because no one wants to go to a support group. She advised me to start an exercise class or something else where people could talk about their PPD. I started to think about other options, but then thought "hey, I went to a support group and had no problem with going." I along with another mom started a support group 2 1/2 years ago. Some weeks we have 6 women, some weeks we have 1 and some we have no one. But we are there every week in case some one comes. We also have a warm line so we are able to talk with the moms beforehand. I think this helps them to feel a little more comfortable with what the group will be like. It also gives them a personal connection with someone. Do not get frustrated. It takes time and a lot of effort and time. Remember that a group setting is not for every one. We try to encourage the moms to come a few times before they make the decision whether or not group is for them. I agree that it is important to make local connections. Most of our moms are referred to us from doctors offices. Good Luck! I commend all of you women who have started support groups!

  4. I've heard both ways: call it a PPD group, don't call it a PPD group.
    Because of my personality, I like calling things like they are, so I would tend to be up front and call it what it is. I do understand, though, the reason others create postpartum depression groups with more innocuous sounding names.

  5. I've heard this suggestion as well. And I've also heard the flipside which is that moms who have PPD don't want to be in a group with women who just need "stress reduction". They want to be in a group with people exactly like them. So I'm just not sure which way to go. I think some would be intimidated if "PPD Support Group" is used, whereas others would be encouraged that the people in the group will really understand what they are going through and aren't just moms looking for a social hour.

  6. I am so excited to see this series in your blog! I am the Program Director of the Postpartum Support Initiative of MotherWoman, Inc. Our primary focus is in creating support groups for all mothers and we specialize in creating postpartum support groups. We have learned a lot over the years in how to create support groups that run extremely well, create a great deal of safety and are accessible and inviting to mothers. Our support groups transform women's experience of motherhood and provide the essential safety that every mother needs to be able to take care of herself and find her inner resilience and strength. (To find out more about our Facilitator Training go to Motherwoman.org.)
    Our groups average 8 – 15 women in every group with women often traveling over an hour to get to one. We have trained over 75 women in our region to run these support groups. Our facilitators now run groups throughout the Western Massachusetts region and we are expanding our programming to Vermont, Connecticut and New York. We have great diversity in our groups: lesbian mothers, single moms, young moms, professional moms, moms living in poverty, moms recovering from addictions, latina moms, black moms, incarcerated moms, refugee moms, middle class moms, moms recovering from baby loss and moms smack dab in the middle of the worst postpartum crises.
    We believe that there are skills that are necessary to make a postpartum support group go well and that they can be taught and replicated. Training is necessary to run an effective support group and yes, networking and being part of a community response to postpartum depression is essential. It is one of the essential components in creating an effective group.
    I second what is said in all three articles about how to run an effective support group. It is essential to be part of a community response to postpartum depression and be one of the resources in a community. Any support group needs to be known in the community and you as the leader need to have relationships with the folks who see women in crisis. The lactation consultant, the physician, the labor and delivery nurse, the WIC worker all need to know about your group and know that you provide a place where women in crisis can go. And women need to know about your group.
    Here's what we find are essential components to making a postpartum group run successfully:
    1. Create a name that reflects that this is a group for women experiencing an intense postpartum time but don't use language that stigmitizes. Postpartum Depression Support Group is going to be difficult for women to come to especially if they are dealing primarily with anxiety, PTSD, or invasive thoughts in addition to depression or without depression or if they don't like labels. But if you don't identify it as a group for women in emotional crisis you won't attract the right women. The middle ground is the way to go. We use names like: Mother's support group; for mom's having an intense emotional experience. Or Mom's Group; this isn't what I expected!
    2. Normalize postpartum emotional complications. We talk about postpartum depression and anxiety as part of the postpartum emotional spectrum. Women have different experiences and it is important that we as facilitators not be invested in women seeing themselves through diagnostic lenses. Some women who come to our groups are comfortable with diagnostic language to describe their experience. Many are not. They are not necessarily comfortable talking about their experience as PPD or PTSD. They know that they are having invasive thoughts, midnight anxiety attacks or feelings of despair and they want to talk about it, but labels may not be helpful. Women also need to know the statistics. They need to know that 1 in 5 women experiences postpartum depression.
    3. Set clear guidelines that ensure that mothers have a confidential space, without judgement that supports their individual decisions as mothers. We always state in our groups that our groups are not for giving or getting advice. We support each mother's inherent intelligence and her ability to navigate the challenges that she faces as a mother.
    4. Share core beliefs about motherhood, the postpartum period and our strengths as mothers in every group. We begin each group with an introduction to what we believe is true about all mothers and mothers in postpartum crisis in particular. We might say something like: We believe that there is a myth out there that motherhood is supposed to be easy and because of this we all think that everyone else has it together except for us. This is not the case. We know that the postpartum period is full of so many different challenges and that many women experience intense emotions during this period. We know that women can recover and find their inner strength, their sense of self and find a path in their parenting that works for each of us. We know this is true for each one of us sitting in this circle today.
    5. Allow a time for individual check in's. We always pass a stone around the circle and let each women share any part of her story that she would like to. The facilitators always start first and we always share our deep stories that let the mothers know that we've been there and it's ok to take risks in this space and say what doesn't get said anywhere else. Many times all we do is check in with a little bit of time for discussion followed by a closing.
    6. Provide snacks and childcare, if at all possible. We know that mom's in postpartum crisis are probably struggling with taking care of themselves. To provide snacks and childcare helps them in their journey to taking care of themselves.
    7. Know your community resources. In addition to being known in your community, you need to know where to send women who need more support. Who is the therapist who specializes in PPD, what are the crisis lines in case of emergencies, where do you send a mother who hasn't slept in 48 hours? These are important questions to know the answers to.
    Most importantly, know that you are not doing this alone and what you are doing is changing the lives of mothers in your community. For every mother who comes to your group there are a dozen who want to and haven't made it yet or may never make it. But the fact that you are there and she knows about you makes a huge difference.
    Please feel free to contact us at MotherWoman if we can help you in your important journey to creating a support group in your community. http://www.motherwoman.org
    liz@motherwoman.org

  7. A small tip related to the first point– for individuals trying to get groups started (as opposed to organizations), Google Voice provides free voicemail and call forwarding, so you could setup a dedicated phone line that you can publicize on posters etc. rather than listing a personal home number.

  8. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Great tip Shannon! I hadn't heard of Google Voice. I can't keep up with all the stuff Google comes out with on a weekly basis. Thanks for sharing this idea!

  9. I attended a PPD support group after I had my 2nd child. When I first started there were over 15 women who came to the meetings. By the time of the last session, I was the only person still going. It was disappointing to say the least. I wonder if you can talk about how to retain membership in these groups?