Five myths about post-natal depression that stopped me seeking help

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

When I was going through postnatal depression, asking for help was the most terrifying idea. It took me years to take that step.

One of my downfalls was comparing my mental health with that of others I'd read about. I didn't have depression, I reasoned, because I loved my baby and this person I'd just read about didn't. And therefore, I didn't need to ask for help.

What I really meant was that I didn't deserve to ask for help. And that's a very different issue that was fed, in part, from the myths that surround postnatal depression (PND) and what we believe it to be.

The truth is that depression affects each person differently and your mental health is yours alone. How well you're doing should be measured on your own scale, not against that of others' experiences. If your struggles feel like struggles then, yes, you do deserve help.

Here are some of the myths I used to believe – because if we can remove the 'rules' and one-size-fits all mindsets around depression, then we can open up the possibility of reaching out for help.

PND means you don't love your baby

Sometimes a new mum feels disconnected from her baby, or doesn't feel the love for her little one that she'd hoped to feel. That can be a sign of postnatal depression.

However, feeling love towards your baby doesn't mean that everything is travelling along perfectly. Depression isn't black and white; there are many nuances within it.

This stereotype can make us feel that love indicates we don't have a problem, and that we don't need help. There are many other signs and symptoms that postnatal depression is developing, and we should watch out (within ourselves and those around us) for all of those.

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If you have depression, you can't get out of bed

The stereotypical image of a depressed person is someone who sleeps all day, is surrounded by a messy house, with tasks piling up on top of them and tears constantly falling.

This can be the case – and certainly, it's common to feel like you can't get out of bed and do the things you need to do when you have depression – but it's not always the way depression looks.

Most people in my life were surprised when I admitted how much I was going through, because they'd always seen me looking very 'together'.

Many people who suffer from PND look like they have their lives under control, and it's very difficult to see past that façade. It's commonly called high-functioning depression, when you go about much of your day-to-day life while struggling inside.

PND is brought on by lack of sleep

There's no doubt that lack of sleep can affect a new parent's mental health. Research shows that, in the first three months after giving birth, mums with poor sleep quality are three times more likely to develop depression than those who are getting sleep.

My first baby slept well (don't hate me!), and yet my mental health was depleting more and more as time went on. People around me said things like, "If you're getting sleep then you can handle anything!"

No. While sleep is helpful, it isn't the full picture in good mental health.

There's only one way to treat it

I have lots of friends who are taking or have taken antidepressants to help them get through, and this is a treatment option that's helped many people.

But I was terrified that, if I asked for professional help, I'd be made to take medication and – for several personal reasons – this wasn't what I wanted. That fear stopped me from seeking help.

The truth is, there are a variety of ways to recover from postnatal depression, including a range of psychological treatments, medication, support strategies, and lifestyle changes. It's really important that we each seek the help we need, rather than letting the myth of a one-size-fits-all approach deter us.

This is just what motherhood is

For first time parents in particular, it's hard to know what motherhood should feel like. We don't have anything with which to compare it, although we hear it's hard and that struggling through is fairly normal.

For me, this made it easy to push away any suspicion that I should seek help. "This is just what motherhood must be like," I told myself. "Push through. Everyone else does." No, those comparisons between others' exteriors and my internal issues weren't helpful.

Beyond Blue suggests that if you feel "distressed, down, sad or overwhelmed most of the time for two weeks or more", it's time to reach out for help.

If you need help, chat to your GP or call PANDA's national helpline on 1300 726 306. Please call Lifeline (13 11 14) if you need urgent support.

Megan Blandford is the author of I'm Fine (and other lies), her story of postnatal depression and the challenges and joys that can be found in motherhood. The book is available online now.