Adele speaks out about the importance of discussing maternal mental health

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Moya Crockett
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After the singer’s best friend was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, she shared her story on social media. We all need to keep the conversation going.      

Despite her endearingly candid persona, Adele is usually a very private celebrity. The singer doesn’t post frequently on social media, almost never discusses her personal relationships, and rarely makes public appearances when she’s not on tour.

But in a rare personal post on Instagram, Adele has now implored women to start talking about maternal mental health. Sharing a photo of her and her best friend, the poet, author and illustrator Laura Dockrill, Adele wrote that Dockrill was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis after giving birth to her first child, who is Adele’s godson.

Becoming a mother “was the biggest challenge of [Dockrill’s] life in more ways than one,” Adele explained.

“Mamas talk about how you’re feeling because in some cases it could save yours or someone else’s life.”

The singer also shared a link to an “intimate, witty, heartbreaking and articulate piece” Dockrill wrote for the parenting blog Mother of All Lists, in which she discusses her experience of new motherhood and postpartum psychosis. 

“It’s not easy to admit that the worst time of our life was when your baby was born,” Dockrill wrote. But it was this sense of shame, she said, that made her realise how important it is to talk about maternal mental health.

Dockrill had no prior history of mental illness before becoming a mother, and described her pregnancy as “a dream”. Yet after she went through a traumatic birth, she developed postnatal depression.

In time, this “escalated into a phase of what I can only describe as hell; mania, mood swings, insomnia, delusions, paranoia, anxiety, [and] severe depression with a lovely side order of psychosis”. She eventually became suicidal and was hospitalised for two weeks.

“I thought I was going to be like the woman in Jane Eyre that’s trapped in the attic,” she wrote. “It was like being the main character in a horror film and I was breaking my loved ones’ hearts as I declined and unravelled right in front of them.

“I thought I was a burden and I didn’t want to be alive anymore because of that.”

Laura Dockrill 

Six months after the birth of her son, Dockrill said she is now in a better place, and implored other women to talk openly about their own mental health struggles.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s a chemical imbalance, an avalanche of hormones and it is NOT your fault,” she wrote.

“I did not ‘have a breakdown’ or ‘struggle’ with motherhood – I didn’t freak out because of a few sleepless nights and dirty nappies and ‘couldn’t cope’ […] I wasn’t deluded in thinking this mothering business was a doddle.

“I just got really sick.”

“I did not ‘have a breakdown’ or ‘struggle’ with motherhood… I just got really sick.”

Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental illness, and is very different from the melancholy emotions that many women feel immediately after giving birth. It can affect one in every 500 to 1,000 women who have a baby, and as Dockrill outlined, symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, behaving in a way that is out of character, mania and depression.

The cause of postpartum psychosis is not yet known, and around half of cases happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without any previous personal or family history of psychiatric illness, according to the NCT. However, women may be more at risk if they have a family history of mental health illness, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, a traumatic birth or pregnancy or have previously experienced postpartum psychosis.

The illness is treated as a medical emergency, and most women who suffer from it need to be admitted into a psychiatric unit in hospital.

As Dockrill notes, there is still a huge amount of stigma around maternal mental health – thanks largely to the popular image of new motherhood as a time of unmitigated joy. When everyone expects you to be revelling in the miracle of new life, it can make it even harder to admit that you’re struggling.

But some things are gradually changing for the better. Not only are women talking more about their experiences with illnesses such as postpartum psychosis and postnatal depression, but in April it was announced that the NHS will receive £23 million in funding to ensure that all pregnant women and new mothers are able to access specialist community mental health support by next spring.

In the meantime, it’s important that we keep the conversation about maternal mental health going. Read Laura Dockrill’s full blog post about postpartum psychosis here.

Images: Getty Images