Signs Your Mom Friend is Struggling, and How You Can Help


Disclaimer: The following post outlines the writer’s personal tips for mental health. It is not intended to act as medical advice. As always, please consult your doctor with any questions about mental health.

When I look back at welcoming my second child when my first was only 15 months, much of the year that followed is still a blur. Every day I was struggling to keep my head above water, with barely the energy to tread for a quick breath. I ended up checking myself into a mental health facility. I walked out during nap time when my children were ten months and two years old. Leaving with only the hope that I would return “better,” and that my husband and family would figure it out. What I remember most leading up to my departure were my cries for help and attention falling on deaf ears.

I wish I had the memories of infant smiles and toddler kisses from that time, but my depression robbed them from me. I felt alone and my despair was not taken seriously by those closest to me. Here are a few signs I recognize looking back, that might be helpful if you have a mom friend struggling with mental health.

Your friend goes silent or conversations are short.

It is easy to breeze past unread text messages checking tomorrow’s schedule, adding to the grocery list, remembering to incorporate self-care, or following up on work emails. If your mom friend goes silent she might not have the mental capacity to respond, let alone schedule a lunch date or provide input in the girl’s trip group chat. I can sometimes go a month without texting my bestie, but we will always pick back up where we left off. But in my time of need, I never wanted to return a call or text. I was so overwhelmed managing life with littles that I had no sense of how to contribute to our friendship.

What you can do: Take the initiative: plan a lunch date or a time to go visit her. If your initiative is met with no response, give her a call to let her know you’re thinking about her. There may be no good time to do this, but the effort outweighs the silence. And if she opens up, don’t disregard a cry for help with cliché one-liners. I remember texting my friend, short and simple, “I’m so depressed”; her response was, “Why? It’s going to be okay.” I didn’t benefit from having to explain why. I even felt like I was coming off ungrateful and weak justifying my gloom. If your friend is telling you she’s depressed, don’t ask why, ask how you can help.

Your friend doesn’t want your help.

For many of us, it is hard to ask for help. This is my biggest downfall as a mom. I cringe at acknowledging I cannot do it all myself and I never want to inconvenience someone with my needs. It’s easier to say “I got it” than to take the time to make my needs clear. Your mom friend may be struggling to come clean. It can be mentally draining trying to sort through the many responsibilities to assign helpful tasks to family and friends.

What you can do: Jump in. If you ask to help, in most cases, you’ll be turned away. But you don’t need direction to actually BE helpful. When you visit, empty the dishwasher, take the kids for a walk, or clean up toys without asking if it’s okay. If you can’t be physically present, hone-in on your friend’s stressors and provide not just advice, but a viable solution. Mess is a big stressor for me. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of crumbs my children produced, and neither was my archaic vacuum cleaner. A friend suggested to my husband to gift me an efficient vacuum for Mother’s Day–and while this might seem like the most appalling gift a man could give a woman, I was beyond thrilled to receive it at the time.

Your friend is crying, yelling, or sleeping all the time.

As a new mom or as a mom of children entering new seasons, adjusting to life’s changes is difficult. Our emotions are constantly pushed to high highs and low lows. Handling those emotions and the mental mom load is overwhelming and the quick relief from crying or yelling or oversleeping could become a new normal. This may be a sign your mom friend is struggling.

When I checked myself in for help and was put under the microscope of a psychologist and psychiatrist, I learned my hormones were working against me, leaving me short tempered, extremely irritable, and on a rollercoaster of emotion all the time. My body’s natural response to the chaos was to yell and fall into crying fits.

What you can do to help: Gently point it out and be open to listening. You are her friend; if you can’t be honest with her, you are doing her and your relationship a disservice. When my neighbor friend called me out for yelling at my toddler, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was in a fog of defeat and yelling at anyone and everything had become a coping mechanism.

Your friend has lost her passion.

As moms, a lot of what we’ve enjoyed before children takes a pause in early motherhood. Our hobbies and passion projects find a way to shift back into plain view once the dust has settled. If she has made it through some motherhood milestones and hasn’t jumped back in to loving herself or investing in her hobbies, your mom friend might be struggling with the change of seasons.

How was I going to incorporate my hobbies and handle my new mom life? Even the simplest of tasks became overwhelming. I found myself sobbing over a sink full of dishes or when I had to manage carrying groceries and babies in from the car. Where was I to place revisiting my passions amidst the chaos?

What you can do to help: Reassure her that this is just a season. Time to invest in hobbies will come back to her. Prior to kids, I really enjoyed cooking and baking. After kids, it became more of a chore to sustain our survival. One Mother’s Day I was gifted an exciting new set of cookbooks I knew I would not be able to enjoy right away. As disappointing as it was, they had to sit on the shelf unused for over a year. But they were there when I was ready to renew my passion. Emphasize and empathize to your struggling mom friend that her passions aren’t lost, just temporarily placed on the shelf.

Your friend doesn’t leave the house and it’s dark.

Being an introvert is one thing; completely closing off from the world is another. Just thinking about leaving the house with an infant and a toddler brought me so much anxiety. The preparation to leave, the worry of the loss of control once we go out, and the fear of my exhaustion once we made it back in was enough to keep me homebound. In some of my most difficult days, I couldn’t even raise the curtains out of the fear of seeing a world I felt incapable of confronting.

What you can do to help: Help your friend get outside. Whatever this looks like in your friendship, getting a struggling mom friend in the fresh outdoors is a good place to start. Take her for a walk, have a conversation on the porch stoop, or schedule a date on a patio. Your friend might need you to pull her out of her darkness and into the sunlight.

Your friend’s appearance has changed.

When I finally realized leaving the house was manageable and being outside was mentally refreshing, I bought a double stroller. I began obsessing over walking as a means to get my body back in shape. My push to bounce back was driven by the fear I would soon be in a season keeping up with busy toddlers that would interfere with getting in a consistent burn.

I lost 50 pounds in four months. I received endless compliments. Neighbors stopped me in the street to tell me how great I looked and how impressed they were. What they didn’t see was me starving myself, my breast milk running dry, and my sick obsession over my body image.

What you can do to help: Your mom friend may be displaying more subtle changes that aren’t characteristic of who you know. You don’t want to call out a new mom for putting on weight or congratulate her on losing a ton in a short period of time. Emphasizing body image is a slippery slope. However, you can show an interest in how she is feeling emotionally–the real talk. If women didn’t feel pressured to quickly measure up (or down) after having children, we would be more inclined to embrace our beautiful new bodies and feelings. Questions like, “How are you feeling?”, or “How are you finding time for yourself?” can help a struggling mom open up and dive into the real talk.

The Takeaway

I vividly remember sitting in the living room, with my six-month-old in my arms screaming bloody murder, a failed dinner attempt on my shirt, and my toddler watching the TV that was drowning out my cries. Not in a panic, but a slow sulking lifeless cry, waiting for my husband to walk in the door. When he found us, I made desperate plea: “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He said, “I know this is hard, it will get easier.” Then life went on, without any change, and four months later I was gone.

Motherhood is hard, but it does get easier. However, if you’re a struggling mom, that is the last thing you are capable of believing. Family and friends have a great responsibility to nurture the mothers we know. And it isn’t easy to discern when there may be a mental health crisis on the horizon. If you can identify some of these signs in your mom friend, don’t be afraid to help. Embrace her, show her love, and take the time to listen.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To find a therapist near you, check out our Detroit Mom-approved guide to therapists.


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