Understanding PND and how it might affect your workplace

Sally Bunkham
Sally Bunkham

Communications & Development Manager at PANDAS

A ‘perinatal’ mental health problem is one that you experience any time from becoming pregnant up to a year after you give birth.

If you experience depression while you are pregnant or after giving birth, this may be known as:

  • antenatal depression – while you are pregnant
  • postnatal depression (PND) – during roughly the first year after giving birth
  • perinatal depression – any time from becoming pregnant to around one year after giving birth.

While your employees may be on parental leave after having a baby, it’s still important to consider what impact experiencing one of these problems might have on their lives, and understand what you might be able to do to support them.

We asked Sally Bunkham from PANDAS (PND Awareness and Support) and Dr Krystal Wilkinson to talk about these issues and how they might affect your workplace.

Postnatal depression and associated perinatal mental illnesses can affect an individual’s working life in a number of different ways, which may vary from person to person, and also over time. From the literature, and our own research, we have identified the following:

  • Loss of confidence both inside and outside work,
  • Struggles with identity – both personal and professional,
  • Difficulty with decision-making​Making decisions under pressure Web page This web page from the NHS is designed to help team leaders working in healthcare to understand the impact of difficult decision-making while under pressure, and offers ways you can help to ease that strain.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource,
  • Changes in behaviour at work,
  • Wanting to work extra hours, to keep distracted, or avoid being at home,
  • Sickness absence​Absence management and measurement Web page This factsheet discusses how to measure sickness absence, the main components of an absence policy, and how to address short- and long-term absence in an organisation.FreeSign up for free on CIPD website By: CIPD View resource,
  • Sickness presenteeism (attending work when really they should be off sick),
  • Reluctance to tell anyone at work​Talking about mental health problems and dealing with disclosure Web page Not all managers feel confident and comfortable talking about mental health. But it’s important that you do, and the information in this guide should help you.Free By: Bupa UK View resource what they are going through, for a number of different reasons, including fear of how people will react and shame,
  • Inability/reluctance to engage in Keeping in Touch days during parental leave,
  • Inability to return to work after parental leave,
  • Worry about the return-to-work transition​Returning to the workplace: line manager 1:1 conversation guide PDF This PDF guide from Unilever has been designed to help line managers to start one-on-one conversations with their teams about how they are feeling about their return to work after a long period of working from home or furlough.Free By: Unilever View resource,
  • Inability to work full hours (during illness and also recovery),
  • Difficulty with certain job duties, or
  • Relationship issues, including conflict or withdrawal.
A mother and baby

Contrary to popular belief, PND can affect all parents (not just mothers). It can be a daunting mental illness to have, at a much-anticipated celebratory time after having a baby. PND should be treated at the earliest possible stage as it can negatively impact on a parental journey and impact the whole family’s day to day life.

If you’re worried a colleague might be experiencing PND, there are some things you can do to support them.

  • If the employee is in work, offer reasonable adjustments​Reasonable adjustments at work PDF What's reasonable at work? Whether you're looking for work or are already employed, this guide has information on rights at work for people with a mental health problem. Free By: Rethink Mental Illness View resource as required, for example adjustments to working hours, work location and job duties. Have regular wellbeing chats, and revisit any adjustments regularly to ascertain if they are useful
  • If the employee is on maternity leave, or absent from work due to sick leave, offer wellbeing chats, and consider how best to support the employee when they are ready to return to work. They might appreciate the offer of a phased return to work.
  • Consider a referral to Occupational Health
  • Signpost the employee to any psychological support services offered by the employer (Employee Assistance Programme​Employee assistance programme standards framework PDF Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be a valuable part of how an organisation promotes its employees' wellbeing. This guide, for those delivering EAPs or considering commissioning one, outlines the services and standards they can cover.Free By: Employee Assistance Professionals Association View resource, counselling) and to external services and charities. If the employee is undertaking any psychological treatment, provide time/space for this during the working day if needed
  • Try to ensure the employee has someone they can talk to at work. You might want to explore the possibility of setting up a buddy scheme/staff network​St Mungo’s Diversity Networks PDF Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource for peer-support.
  • Mentoring/coaching might be considered, where an employee has lost confidence, or is struggling with the return to work.
  • Seriously consider flexible working applications.

In addition, employers can raise awareness around perinatal mental health (marking awareness weeks, etc.) and mental health more broadly, in the workplace. This can help show that perinatal mental illness is a common experience, and something that can be spoken about at work. The topic can also be added to line manager training, so they are more confident in handling the issue in their teams.

A father and baby

What not to do

  • Do not trivialise postnatal depression, equating it to ‘baby blues’
  • Do not make assumptions about what postnatal depression is, how long it lasts, or who can experience it
  • Try not to make assumptions about what someone needs without speaking to them, and/or seeking advice from a medical professional (Occupational Health / the individual’s GP or perinatal mental health professional)
  • Do not act in a way that causes discrimination/disadvantage due to either maternity and/or mental illness.
  • Try not to forget about someone when they are absent due to parental leave. Ensure that there is the offer of KIT days, wellbeing checks and discussions about the return to work.
  • Do not assume that workplace factors have no impact on illness or recovery. Be sure to do an individual assessment of job duties, hours, and relationships etc. to inform discussions about reasonable adjustments.
  • Do not assume that everyone will want to talk at length about their feelings/experiences, even if they have disclosed postnatal depression. Under the Equality Act 2010 employees do not have to disclose a mental health condition or illness unless it has a direct impact on their day to day work, or working environment. Be guided by the employee and act with sensitivity.
Two women talking at work

Full recovery from PND is completely possible with the right support and intervention. Many people struggling with their mental health after having a baby may feel alone in their thoughts and may also feel guilt and shame. Know that you are not alone, and that there are many others going through the same thing as you. It is important if you feel you are experiencing PND to talk to a GP, midwife or healthcare professional in order to start your recovery and begin to be able to enjoy your parenting journey.

What if you are concerned about a colleague?

It is important to normalise discussions generally around mental health in the workplace and to regularly guide all employees to resources and information on where to get help and support.

Many people may not realise they have PND as it can develop slowly, or because the experience of new parenthood can feel so new and alien, many aren’t aware of how they “should” feel. It is important that all employees know where to turn for advice and support around mental health and that it is easily accessible. PANDAS offer support not only to parents and carers, but to their networks too, so do contact them if you are concerned about a friend, family member or colleague.

Details of our free support services can be found at pandasfoundation.org.uk. Details of our HR toolkit can be found here​HR guide to perinatal mental health support in the workplace PDF The PDF explains the differences between perinatal mental health problems, the impact they might have on new parents, and ways your organisation can support those experiencing them.Free By: PANDAS View resource, and our social media pages also offer free advice, support and relevant content.

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