Every year Bell runs its Let’s Talk campaign to shine a light on mental health issues. It’s been a great way to bring awareness to mental health struggles and has gone some way to deconstructing the stigma around mental illness. But when it comes to maternal mental health there’s still work to be done and it’s becoming clear that Bell has been leaving perinatal mental health out of the conversation. This year let’s talk Maternal Mental Health because it’s very clear that we still need to be shouting from the rooftops in order to bring awareness, empathy, and acceptance to the gamut of mental health issues that mothers, and fathers, suffer from.
A case in the news recently outlines the plight of a woman who was suffering from postpartum depression manifesting in episodes of intense anger. We know that anger is a common symptom of PPD and this woman was aware of her situation as well. She asked for help from a doctor. A nurse called the police, who then escorted the woman to the hospital. You can read the entire article here.
It’s no wonder, then, that women are terrified to admit they are struggling after the birth of their babies. In PPPSS support groups it’s common for mothers to worry that if they admit their struggles their children will be taken away. In reality, this almost never happens. Postpartum mood disorders almost never prompt women to hurt their children. In most cases mothers are anxious, hyper-vigilant, and while they may have scary intrusive thoughts about harming their children, they are very unlikely to act on them. There are rare exceptions of course, but exceptions occur mostly in relation to postpartum psychosis, which is very different from the more common postpartum mood disorders. And even postpartum psychosis can almost be effectively treated if properly diagnosed. Which is why it’s so important to speak up early and speak up often.
If women remain terrified that admitting to a difficult postpartum adjustment will lead to being taken away by police they are much more likely to suffer in silence, which will ultimately be far more harmful to mom and baby than if she had sought appropriate help.
And it’s not just fear of legal action that keeps women silent. It’s fear of social judgement, fear of what their spouse or extended family will think, fear of how a mental illness might affect their job prospects or ability to work. I have written openly, and often, about my three year struggle with severe postpartum depression and anxiety on my blog and on other online forums. I have been asked on more than one occasion if I think this is a good idea. People are worried that if some potential future employer found my writing they would be unlikely to hire me. This may be true. I don’t know. What I do know is that I help no one by staying silent. If I can’t educate those around me, including people who might be future employers, about the realities of postpartum mood disorders then nothing will ever change, the stigma will remain firmly entrenched. So I take my chances. I write, I talk, I reach out to others who might be suffering. If I lose a job opportunity because of it, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. But not everyone is in a position to take that risk. So there is a lot of silence.
So this year let’s talk about maternal mental health. You can use the hashtag #BellLetsTalkMaternalMentalHealth to join the conversation. And you don’t have to do it publicly. Talk to your friends, talk to your family, find a doctor you trust and talk to her. Talk to the new mom you’ve met at the park. Know what your local maternal mental health resources are and use them. Direct your friends to them if they’re suffering. In whatever way you can, make your voice heard. Things will only chance if we are not too afraid to give voice to our suffering.