Glad you can join me as I participate in the very first blog party devoted to World Mental Health Day, hosted by PsychCentral. I am happy to be one of the bloggers from all over the world who are coming together today to help increase public awareness of mental health concerns, and welcome to World Mental Health Day (October 10), designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help spotlight the lack of care mental disorders all too often receive around the world.
I’d like to start my post–the original title of which was going to be Let’s Let Our Voices Be Heard: Conquering the Stigma of Mental Illness Together–by asking you what motivated you to start blogging.
- Was it to get your thoughts out because doing so is therapeutic?
- Was it to voice your opinion on a topic near and dear to your heart?
- Was it in the hopes of trying to make a positive difference by sharing what you learned from your own experiences?
All three reasons motivated me to blog about the topic I am utterly passionate about: postpartum depression (PPD). Other than sharing my own experiences and providing lessons learned from those experiences, my posts would very often address recent developments in this country, particularly as it pertains to PPD in the media (newspapers, television, Internet), legislative developments, and ignorant comments I happen to stumble across in newspapers and online.
What’s my #1 peeve? I’ve said it before on this blog and will say it again. Let’s say it together now: Behavior & remarks made out of ignorance, prejudism, condescension. I have zero tolerance for any of this, thanks to my wonderful high school experience. While growing up, I was taunted and isolated at junior/senior high school by an all-white crowd for….I’ll give you one guess. Yep, being Chinese. As a consequence of my teenage experiences, I am a passionate anti-bullying advocate. I am determined to become active in my community when it comes to taking a stand against bullying. Heck, who knows? I may become active at the state or even federal level. Another consequence of my teenage years–when the kids had their own cliques, didn’t like the way I looked, didn’t liked the way I dressed, and just plain looked down at me in general…I’ve become quite intolerant of behavior/remarks made out of ignorance and condescension.
Which leads me to where I stand today. I’ve spent the past 6 years working on a book (which should be out by Thanksgiving) and the past 2-1/2 years blogging (has it really been that long already?) because of the following:
- All the ignorant comments made by people around me—including colleagues, acquaintances, my doctors, and their staff
- The way I was treated by my doctors
- No one telling me about PPD in the first place
- The lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television
- The way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences
Yesterday morning, an encounter with someone I know almost threw a wrench in the day that I had planned with my daughter. It took me until I wrote this post last night to put 1 and 2 together to figure out why in the world I was in tears by the time I got home. It’s because 2 of my 3 triggers–or actually “crushing blow” points–were pulled today. There was a momentary lapse in my determination to stand strong against these types blows. (believe it or not, in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a personal transformation due to an increased self confidence due to my blog, the book I’m just about to publish, and public speaking classes; at work, I’m able to let certain people/circumstances slide while in the past I would’ve been crushed).
What were the 2 things that bothered me so much yesterday?
- Ignorance – I got an “okay, then” look when I told her about the topic of the book I’ve been slaving over the past 6 years…..like it didn’t matter because it didn’t mean anything to her
- Feeling of isolation (that’s how I felt all through high school from kids picking on me, not wanting to be my friend because I didn’t dress well and because I was a shy Chinese girl) – For several weeks now, whenever this woman (and I’ve known her for over a year now and we are on friendly terms) is speaking with another friend while our 3 daughters are swimming, she has yet to introduce me to her friend (I know, I can introduce myself, but heck, it’s the principal I’m struggling with here). I’m trying not to take it personally, but it’s tough. I always introduce someone I’m talking to if someone else I know is sitting with us. I would never ignore the 3rd person (yesterday, that 3rd person was me…very ignored) and deliberately exclude her from the conversation. I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive. I think someone is being rude here. And I really don’t need rudeness in my life, thank you very much.
Okay, now more on the topic at hand. Postpartum depression (PPD). This has been the topic I’ve dedicated the last 6 years to my book and the last 2-1/2 years to my blog.
If asked what the number one complication of childbirth is today, most people would probably say C-sections. One would never think that depression is the leading complication of childbirth because no one ever talks about their experience. As a result, so many cases go unreported and untreated. This is more than likely the reason why, aside from ignorance about PPD and stereotypes of motherhood, postpartum illnesses don’t receive the attention of health practitioners, hospitals, and funding for education and public awareness that they deserve.
Frankly, I’m amazed that there is still so much ignorance about PPD. That ignorance is perpetuated by the lack of information about PPD available to the public, not to mention the general unwillingness of people to talk about it. Had I known about PPD before I had my baby, I would not have suffered the way I had suffered, not knowing what in the world was wrong with me. Ignorance, or the fear of not knowing, can intensify an already bad situation exponentially. There is no need for that kind of suffering, especially at a time when a new mom should be enjoying her baby. After all, she only has one shot at experiencing her baby’s first few months.
Before my own experience with PPD, I’d never really heard much about it before. I thought it was rare. I’d heard of the occasional sad news of a stillbirth or miscarriage, but in terms of experiences after the baby’s arrival, I’d only heard women rave about how great motherhood is. I’d never heard of any terrible motherhood experiences. I never thought it would be something that would happen to me. I thought it was all a matter of mind over matter.
Had I known that as many as one out of eight new mothers develop PPD, I would’ve tried to become familiar with what it is, its risk factors, and its symptoms before having my baby, and I would’ve never traveled that long, lonely, and dark road during those dreadful weeks I was sick with PPD. But I emerged from my PPD experience much smarter and stronger than before, and for that, I am grateful.
Having PPD is so embarrassing and difficult to talk about, that most women will not tell their stories to people they know, let alone to the world. There’s this fear of being judged, criticized, and labeled as inferior mothers. Well, I am not afraid to tell my story, especially if it means helping other mothers. I want to make a positive impact by empowering women with knowledge about an illness that is more prevalent than people think.
From all the books and articles I’ve read, it appears that denial, embarrassment, and/or pride keep women from admitting they have any psychological issues. Out of curiosity to see if this holds true, and since I am unafraid of admitting to anyone, even a stranger, that I suffered from PPD, I’d try to broach the subject whenever possible to try to get a new mother to tell me she had PPD. Other than a couple mothers who thought they had PPD when in actuality they probably only had postpartum blues (based on the description of their experiences), I couldn’t find a single woman who had actually experienced PPD. Or I just didn’t find anyone who would admit that she’d suffered terribly, too ashamed to admit to having such a negative experience at a time when everyone expects her to be happy. It wasn’t until after I started blogging that I realized there are a lot of women out there who are currently suffering from or who have suffered from PPD. Perhaps it’s the anonymity that comes with blogging under, in many cases, aliases that is encouraging more and more women to speak up about their experiences. People openly talking about their own experiences encourages others to do so as well. Whether it is via online media (blogs, discussion forums, PsychCentral, WebMD, etc.), newspapers, magazine articles, or public service announcements, we need more of this!
We should all develop a zero tolerance position when it comes to ignorance, and stigma, of mental health. Ignorance leads to:
- New mothers not knowing about PPD and being blindsided, they won’t necessarily realize what they have requires medical and/or mental health care, and unnecessarily suffering feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and self-doubt come from not knowing what causes PPD in the first place. With awareness of what causes PPD and why, there would be fewer mothers struggling with such negative feelings. The belief that it’s just a mind-over-matter thing and that if they were truly a good mother they wouldn’t be feeling this way at all must be eradicated. The only way to do that is through constant hammering away the message in as many forms of media as possible that PPD is a common occurrence, that it happens more often than you know because most mothers don’t talk about their experiences, and it has a biochemical cause.
- People mistakenly believing that PPD is the same thing as the blues and moms should be able to snap out of it, since it’s mind over matter.
- Misconceptions, prejudices, comments and societal attitude that cause new mothers with PPD to suffer in silence and hide their condition behind smiles, unwilling to get treatment.
- Lack of sympathy or understanding by the public because there’s just not enough being done to educate the public on what it really is (instead of inaccurate depictions of PPD in the media). Because the only cases of a postpartum mood disorder you hear about in the news are about mothers who kill their babies, the general population has misconceptions of what PPD really is. As long as women are afraid to speak openly about PPD, the longer the public at large will remain ignorant about it, its prevalence, and its seriousness. Try asking people if they realize that one out of eight new mothers suffers from PPD. I can almost guarantee that they won’t believe you. The terrible irony of the ignorance about PPD is that it will continue as long as mothers are afraid of telling others what they are going through.
We need to get to the point where the public acknowledges PPD for what it is: a real medical illness. The PPD mom deserves support, not criticism. She did not bring this on herself, nor is PPD a contrived illness. PPD doesn’t just arise out of a new mother’s failure to cope with her transition to motherhood, despite what some people who don’t know better would try to have you believe. It is not mind over matter, and she cannot just snap out of it whenever she feels like it. This should not be a negative reflection on her. PPD does not mean a woman is weaker or less of a mother than those who don’t have PPD. In fact, those who speak up about how they are truly feeling—unafraid of what others think—are brave women who are not afraid to take that first courageous step toward recovery because they realize their health is critical to the overall family’s health.
Instead of looking back with regret at my PPD experience, I look at it as an experience that has truly made me a more knowledgeable and stronger person. And that is what I hope other PPD survivors and those who are battling (and survived) depression will do. My hope is that more of you will speak up. The more that speak up about their experiences, the less ignorance and stigma about depression there will be.