Why I'm so grateful for Hayden Panettiere's PND honesty

Hayden Panettiere at the 2016 Critic's Choice Awards.
Hayden Panettiere at the 2016 Critic's Choice Awards.  Photo: Getty Images

Last week, 26-year-old actress Hayden Panettiere took to twitter to announce that she was seeking further treatment for postpartum depression. She wrote: "The postpartum depression I have been experiencing has impacted every aspect of my life. Rather than stay stuck due to unhealthy coping mechanisms I have chosen to take time to reflect holistically on my health and life. Wish me luck!"

Hayden, who gave birth to her daughter Kaya in December 2014, initially entered a treatment facility in October last year

At the time, she told morning show Live! With Kelly and Michael that postpartum depression is "something that needs to be talked about. Women need to know they're not alone and that it does heal." 

"It's really painful," she added. "And it's really scary and women need a lot of support."

The Nashville star was widely praised for her honesty, for helping to bust the stigma around postnatal depression, and for raising awareness of a condition that affects more than 1 in 7 new mums

Her latest admission however, is just as important – for all of those reasons and more.

It's one thing to admit that you're struggling and to speak up and seek help. Doing so takes courage and insight. This time though, it's Hayden's honesty about the nature of recovery itself that deserves acknowledgement. It's her candour about the fact that despite getting help, despite feeling better and despite making progress, you can still – months later – feel "stuck."

And that's okay.

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Like Hayden, I went back into hospital for a second time after being diagnosed with postnatal psychosis. Although I was no longer psychotic, a deep depression lingered. And just as Hayden described in her tweet, it was impacting every aspect of my life. I no longer knew who I was. And worst of all, I no longer cared. I was numb.

The way I saw it, I wasn't simply failing at motherhood – I was failing at recovery, too. It sounds utterly ridiculous in hindsight. But the thing is that depression collects failures; it highlights all the ways you're simply not good enough.

When I was admitted to hospital on the first occasion, to a mum and baby unit with my son, I told my family, friends and the women from my mother's group. I thought of writer Adrienne Rich's words: "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her." And so I told the truth.

The second time, though? I told very few people that I was going back in. And unlike the first admission, when I was grateful for the distraction, during this hospital stay I was adamant that I didn't want any visitors. Why? Quite simply I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I was still unwell. If I felt I should be "over it" by now, surely everyone else felt the same way?

"I don't think I'm ever going to get better," I said to my psychiatrist not long after I was discharged. I had new medication and was a little more rested, but even then, I was far from being back to my old self.

"You will," she told me. And she was right, of course. Much to my frustration, however, she just couldn't tell me exactly when.

What I didn't understand then, but know all too well now, is that recovery from mental illness isn't linear. There are baby steps and giant leaps forward. But there are steps backwards, too. And, oh, how they can hurt your heart.

So I'm grateful to Hayden for her honesty. I'm grateful that she's keeping it real and sharing just how hard it is to get well after having PND, even after you've first spoken up and accessed help. 

Because the reality is that it's often just the beginning of what can be a long and humbling recovery process.

For more information regarding postnatal depression and anxiety visit the PANDA website.