The taboo surrounding post-pregnancy mental health can leave many women struggling with conditions like postnatal depression and anxiety alone, feeling scared or embarrassed to talk about their experiences.
It has been reported by the NHS that postnatal depression is common, with more than one in 10 women suffering with the condition – so why do we rarely talk about it?
A fear of sounding ‘crazy’, being judged or appearing weak are just some of the reasons women can feel concerned about when discussing feelings of anxiety and depression, feelings that can come rolling in like a thick mist over what is hyped up as the happiest time of your life.
But someone who knows the insidious symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety only too well (and isn’t scared to talk about them) is television journalist and blogger, Kristen Hewitt, who has taken to Facebook to share the truth behind her condition.
And her words have struck a chord with other mums on the social networking site.
In a post to her Facebook page, Hewitt details what it feels like on a day when “anxiety wins”, describing how irrational fear takes over, with anxiety telling her “I couldn’t leave my kids to go on vacation with my husband because the plane might crash”.
She describes how the mental illness plays with her self-perception, having her believe she “wasn’t good enough” and leaving her “in tears that wouldn’t stop for hours”.
Hewitt continues to explain how “since suffering from a traumatic birth, PTSD, perimenopause, and postpartum anxiety disorder I've never talked about this emotion.
“I was afraid others would think I was weak. I was afraid people would know I'm broken. Just as it came in a monstrous wave taking over my being, it's once again gone. An emotion fueled by my thoughts.”
But as well as admitting her own experiences in an admirably raw way, Hewitt has sounded a feminist battle cry. She has addressed the facts that it seems no one’s talking about: how we can change after children, and how as a society we need to accept and talk about this.
Articulating her point succinctly, Hewitt writes: “Women – we change after having kids. Sometimes it's depression, sometimes anxiety, sometimes both. But we need to confide in others and get help. Process what's happening. Find the root and try to heal.”
Hewitt continues to point out that social media would have us believe that the world is full of ‘perfect’ mums, but in reality, everyone “has something”.
“What we see on TV, the internet, the news, it's not real. Every person you know has something. We show our best on social media, carefully curating the content we want the world to see. Hoping not to soil our ‘reputations’.
“But this is real life. It's messy, it's hard, it sometimes is too much to handle, but even at its worst it's still beautiful.”
Her message not only exposes how common postnatal mental illness is, and accurately depicts it, but reminds us once again (because we do all sometimes need reminding) that social media isn’t real. Comparing ourselves to internet profiles is doing ourselves a disservice.
Hewitt’s post has attracted the attention of hundreds of women, with many sharing their own experiences as well as agreeing that the taboo needs to be broken.
One Facebook user thanks Hewitt for her honesty, writing, “Thank you so much for sharing your heart and your struggle. Yes, this is something we need to talk about! Bless you and the courage it took to say something. “
Another shared her own story, saying, “So sorry. I also suffered from PTSD and postpartum anxiety disorder after the birth of my first child. I had it again but much milder after my second as well. It does get better and there will be good days and bad. We definitely change after having children and you're not alone.”
A third commented, “You rock and thank you for opening up and being so vulnerable to your readers. I feel like so many of us are sisters in that we all face similar struggles.”
The NHS describes symptoms of postnatal depression as including, but not limited to:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- withdrawing from contact with other people
- problems concentrating and making decisions
- frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby
We need to talk more openly about mental illness in all forms, but as women we face a unique but uniting situation in the way we are affected psychologically by childbirth. Although this example of taboo erosion is admirable, it’s not for everyone – so if you’re suffering with feelings of anxiety and depression, try and speak to someone you trust or a GP about it.
You can find out more information – including approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.