It can be scary to hear that someone you love has been affected by perinatal OCD, whether you were aware of what they were going through before their diagnosis or not. Here are some ways in which you can support a loved one who is experiencing perinatal symptoms:
1) Educate Yourself
One of the first and best things you can do to support your loved one is to learn more about perinatal OCD. The more you learn, the more you will be able to understand what they are going through and be an effective support! You can learn more about perinatal OCD specifically, as well as about OCD in general.
2) Help Find Effective Treatment
Another great way to help your loved one living with perinatal OCD is to assist them in finding treatment, if they would be open to it. Click here to learn more about the most effective treatments for perinatal OCD, including how you can access them.
3) Learn to Recognize and Reduce Family Accommodation Behaviors
Family accommodation behaviors are things families do that enable OCD symptoms. This can be hard to understand - after all, how could doing something that makes your loved one feel better actually be making their OCD worse? What happens is that although these family accommodation behaviors might help the person feel better in the short term/immediately, in reality they are reinforcing their OCD symptoms in a way that will make them stronger and harder to overcome.
By recognizing and reducing any family accommodation behaviors you notice in your family, you will be joining your loved one in the fight against their OCD. The long-term goal of this may end up causing your loved one more distress in the short term but ultimately you are fighting for them, not their OCD.
The more that family members can learn about their responses to OCD, and the impact they have on the person with OCD, the more the family becomes empowered to make a difference!
Examples of family accommodation behaviors:
Participating in the behavior. You participate in your family member's OCD behavior along with them.
Example: You wash your hands whenever they wash their hands.
Assisting in avoiding. You help your family member avoid things that upset them.
Example: You do their laundry for them so that it is cleaned the "right" way.
Helping with the behavior. You do things for your family member that lets them do OCD behaviors.
Example: You buy large amounts of cleaning products for them.
Making changes in the family routine. You alter the way your family usually does things.
Example: You change the time of day that you shower or when you change your clothes.
Taking on extra responsibilities. You go above and beyond what you might normally do to try and make life easier for your loved one.
Example: You go out of your way to drive them places when they could otherwise drive themselves.
Making changes in leisure activities. You change your usual behavior to make your loved one “feel better.”
Example: Your family member gets you to not leave the house without them and this affects your interests in movies, dining out, time with friends, etc.
Making changes at your job. You alter your usual work routine/schedule with the goal of being more available for your loved one.
Example: You cut back on hours at your job in order to take care of your family member.
Because these family accommodation behaviors can be so deeply rooted in your family’ dynamics, it’s important to work with your loved one’s care team when thinking about how to reduce them. They can help you find a way to do so that is best for your loved one, and your family in the long run, as they continue on their treatment journey.
4) Know the Warning Signs
The more familiar you get with your loved one’s perinatal OCD, the more you will become able to recognize when they are feeling worse and might need some extra support. Some things you might notice include:
- That they are not acting like themselves, especially around the baby or when talking about the pregnancy.
- They are over- or under-engaged in childcare and/or family activities.
- Asking for a lot of reassurance about the safety of family members.
- Excessive calling of their care team (e.g. OB/GYN, pediatrician, etc.) to ask questions, or bringing family members in for more appointments than necessary.
What If They Don't Want Help?
Bring information about perinatal OCD into the house (perhaps print off some pages from this resource center!). Offer the information to your loved one or leave it in an obvious place, so they can take it in on their own time.
Learn some self-help strategies for families/loved ones. There are many good self-help books out there that you might find helpful to read, two of which include The Family Guide to Getting Over OCD: Reclaim Your Life and Help Your Loved One, by Jon Abramowitz, PhD and When a Family Member Has OCD: Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Skills to Help Families Affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, by Jon Hershfield, MFT.
Offer encouragement. Remind your loved one that there is hope and help available to them, and that with the right treatment most people have a significant decrease in their symptoms. Tell them that there are others who have gone through what they are struggling with. Suggest that they attend support groups (with or without you), connect with others online (through forums such as the My OCD Community group on HealthUnlocked), or speak to a professional at a local clinic.
Get support and help yourself. Seek professional advice/help for yourself from someone that knows perinatal OCD. Talk to other family members, so you can share your feelings - whatever they may be! Attending a support group can be a great help for family members, as you can meet other families and learn how they are handling their loved one’s symptoms. You can search for online therapy, online support groups here, and in-person support through the IOCDF’s Resource Directory.
When to Involve the Whole Family
Whether or not other people know about what your loved one's perinatal diagnosis and what they are going through is entirely up to them. That said, they may not always have a choice in disclosing, especially if there are other family members living in the household with them (e.g., grandparents, older children, other relatives).
>> For adults, direct them to this Resource Center so they can read about perinatal OCD and how they can be the most helpful to your loved one.
>> For children, here are a few tips for talking through whats happening:
- Use youth-friendly language when describing what your loved one is going through. For example, you can tell them that their loved one has a “worry monster” inside their head that makes things hard for them sometimes, especially around the baby.
- Ask them what they might have noticed in your loved one already, and let that guide your discussion. Answer whatever questions they may have to the best of your ability, and with developmentally-appropriate language.
- Validate whatever feelings or concerns your child may have, and provide realistic assurance (e.g., “Mommy has this worry monster in her head, and she is working to fight it every day!” or “Sometimes daddy needs to do things that might seem weird to us, but it’s because of his worry monster and he’s trying to beat it.”).
Taking Care of Yourself
No matter what your loved one is going through, it’s important to take care of yourself. After all, you are best able to support them when you are feeling good yourself! Examples of self care include:
- Seeking professional advice/help for yourself from a clinician that knows perinatal OCD.
- Talking to other family members, so you can share your feelings — whatever they may be!
- Attending a support group can be a great help for family members, as you can meet other families and learn how they are handling their loved one’s symptoms.
- You can search for online therapy, online support groups, and in-person support through the IOCDF’s Resource Directory at iocdf.org/find-help.
- Postpartum Support International also has some resources for families/loved ones — learn more about help for partners and families, and access their various online support groups.