Postnatal depression: dispelling the myths
"I used a number of excuses to avoid the ‘D’ word (depression), and still find it quite confronting to do so" ... Megan Blandford
My little one is three-and-a-half years old, and I’ve only just realised I suffered from postnatal depression.
It crept up on me at the time – it was just a bad day, followed by another bad day, and another, and so on. Until now I just called this ‘my bad year’. I used a number of excuses to avoid the ‘D’ word (depression), and still find it quite confronting to do so. But now it also feels good to acknowledge what I went through.
Often we don’t even realise what it is that’s creeping up on us, so it isn’t recognised until further down the track
There are a number of myths surrounding postnatal depression (PND) which helped me blindly ignore the truth for so long. Here are some of the excuses I used to stick with my ‘bad year’ terminology, and why they just aren’t true.
1. I wasn’t diagnosed with PND, so it didn’t exist
Apparently this belief is quite common – many women don’t know they’ve suffered PND until they gain the complete clarity of hindsight. (Or, in my case, sit in denial until researching a story on the topic and then have a rather confronting light bulb moment.)
2. It wasn’t PND because it didn’t start straight after the birth of my child
PND is classified as depression at any time within the first year after giving birth. Often we don’t even realise what it is that’s creeping up on us, so it isn’t recognised until further down the track.
3. It might have been some other (less severe) type of depression
Actually, any form of depression is the same. PND just has its own name purely as recognition that this is a vulnerable time in a woman’s life, one in which the risk of depression increases.
4. Women with PND don’t love their babies
I loved – and still love! – my baby, have always cared for her well, and dote on her like any other mum. I’d heard so much about PND but it always seemed to be described as not feeling love for your child, or not being able to bond with him/her, and I never experienced that. The fact is, you can love your child and be experiencing depression. The two aren’t isolated.
5. I didn’t want to harm anyone, so it wasn’t worth being treated
At one point, in desperation, my husband asked me to call a help line. They asked me, ‘Do you want to hurt yourself?’ ‘No.’ ‘Do you want to harm your baby?’ ‘No!’ I obviously hadn’t rung the right help line, as my worries were dismissed on that basis alone. That became one of my lowest points – after all, what hope existed if that was the benchmark for living my life? In some severe cases, thoughts of harm to yourself or others can exist, but it certainly isn’t a prerequisite for PND.
6. I couldn’t put how I felt into words, so I shouldn’t try talking to anyone
The only certainty I have about that period in my life is that I should have sought more help. I should have talked to professionals about what was happening. Fear of not being taken seriously stopped me (see above), but it shouldn’t have.
7. My life is good; I have no right to be depressed
I was surrounded by amazing people who loved and supported me, my life was filled with opportunities and blessings … and yet I couldn’t find any hope or joy in any of it. It felt quite silly and self-pitying to feel that way. The truth is, though, that anyone can fall down that dark hole – and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
8. I got up every day and did the things I needed to do, so I couldn’t be depressed
Our image of a depressed person is often someone who sleeps all day, who is surrounded by a messy house, with tasks piling up on top of them. Actually, many women who suffer from PND look like they have their lives under control, and it’s very difficult to see past that façade. But getting out of bed and going through the motions of life is not an indicator of one’s mental health.
9. I’m too strong for depression
As a society we need to re-define strength. Is it someone who never falls? Or is it someone who can fall from the greatest height and still pick up the pieces? I used to think the former, and now I can see the latter. Having experienced PND doesn’t make me weak or a lesser person than anyone else – it’s simply part of my story.
10. I’ve recovered and that’s that
Anyone who has suffered depression runs a higher risk of experiencing it again. It isn’t something that just disappears, never to appear again. I certainly still have my moments, but now I know to keep those in check and to look out for the signs.
This information was gathered through research and a discussion with Dr. Nicole Highet, psychologist and leader of Beyond Blue’s perinatal health program.
If you feel you may be experiencing depression, head to Beyond Blue’s website, phone them on 1300 22 4636 or visit your GP to discuss your concerns.