Why Maternal Mental Health Is Still Causing So Much Pain
There are more conversations surrounding mental health than ever before. While there’s no doubt that stigma still remains, there is a movement towards openness that hasn’t existed before. People are opening up and talking about depression without shame or fear and with each conversation, someone somewhere feels more able to ask for help than they did before. It’s a slow and long battle, but one that more and more are fighting for.
A step or two behind, however, is the discussion surrounding maternal mental health. I’ve been sharing my story for as long as I’ve had a platform because I know that personally, telling my own sorry story makes it smaller, less powerful and less damaging in my own mind. But it’s still far less present in the larger mental health discussion that in should be. The problem is that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, underestimate the tumult of parenthood.
It’s a natural, beautiful process right? How can something so elemental, so natural, trigger such damaging symptoms in someone? Aren’t we built to do this? Why then are some of us so floored by what should be an instinctive and inbuilt skill? Why is a period of your life, so normally associated with joy and magic, reduced to a wasteland of demented emotions rendering you removed, lost, lonely and voiceless? Associating depression, psychosis, anxiety and everything else with the revered concept of ‘motherhood’ is still such a difficult thing for society to do.
This, in turn, makes it incredibly difficult from women to even recognise maternal mental health issues because we’re so often sold the ‘magic’ and the ‘wonder’ of the experience. Sure, there’s a light hearted side order warning of exhaustion and lack of free time but very rarely are we sat down and told of the warning signals surrounding maternal mental health issues. Instead, those suffering assume that we’ve all been sold a big lie and this is just what motherhood is: exhausting, lonely, depressing, tearful, isolating, scary, silent. We don’t speak out because, despite what they’re all saying at playgroup, isn’t this just what looking after a small human is?
When, and if, we do recognise that there’s something wrong, that motherhood isn’t just meant to be a dark place of insecurity, fear, insomnia, numbness and loneliness, it is often dismisses as ‘baby blues’ or ‘just PND’. Not only have we underestimated maternal mental health issues, medical professionals are also underestimating it. When we are at our weakest, our most vulnerable, we find ourselves having to fight for treatment or drown trying.
But for so many women, it isn’t like that. So many women are able to adjust to the seismic life-shift that is parenthood without triggering mental health issues and for this reason, those who are struggling, find themselves isolated amongst a group of women that should be their fiercest allies. It’s not their fault - I’m not sure it’s possible to understand the power of maternal mental health issues if you’re not facing them - but again, those mothers feeling alone are left feeling even more alone. Even more isolated. Even more lost.
So, as it’s maternal mental health week, it’s important that we use this opportunity to share our stories. To help raise maternal mental health issues to the status they deserve. They are powerfully destructive to individual women, their relationships with their husband and their children, their careers, their friendships. They can destroy marriages, lose jobs and leave emotional scars within mothers that run so deep, it’s possible they’ll never stop doing damage because when you feel like you’ve failed at the one thing you were built to do, when all around you appear to be flourishing, it’s the worst feeling in the world.
If you can, share your story because only by talking about it can we understand it.