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Kelly McCarren thought she knew bad mental health. Then she got postpartum depression.

This post includes discussion of postpartum depression that may be distressing to some readers.

At the age of 15, Kelly McCarren first saw the signs of poor mental health

As a teenager, Kelly's anger began to bubble towards the surface, and by year eight in high school, she had thrown a chair at her best friend in French class. Luckily, the chair didn't make contact with her friend.

"I felt things a lot more than what was normal. I used to go outside when I was having fights with my parents, and we had these poles that supported/held up the house – I would punch those poles. It really hurt my hands, but it was a way to release anger," Kelly reflected on No Filter.

Up until this point she didn't realise other kids weren't also doing things like this.

With strong recommendations from her parents to go and talk to a professional, Kelly saw a counsellor. And from this point on she understood what mental health looked like. It continued to ebb and flow throughout her life, through career milestones, graduations, relationship and friendship breakups – the lot.

Then postpartum depression hit

And it escalated things to an entirely new level. 

Watch Jess Eva talks about her postnatal depression on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! Post continues below.


Video via Network 10.

The first summer back from uni, Kelly first started taking medication for depression.

"Mum and dad knew I struggled a lot, but they didn't know how to handle it. It got really bad. In my first year of uni I was so shy and really struggling to be my true self, so I didn't make any friends. I had a boyfriend, and I had my nanny [grandmother], and that was it. I was very lonely," Kelly said.

For Kelly, depression was debilitating.

It felt like something was on top of her, and that she couldn't pull herself out. 

On paper, Kelly's life looks relatively perfect. She's financially secure, has a loving family, good friends, a great relationship and a job she loves. With this in mind, Kelly struggles to articulate her thoughts and emotions -– she almost feels guilty for being depressed. 

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"I have felt guilty about it. You can be so happy with your life – but that doesn't mean you're happy in your life in that current time. I just don't cope well with things," she said.

There's the depression you can feel that is situational – something associated with circumstance, grief, or an event that has happened. For Kelly, hers was more chemical – it wasn't anchored to anything in particular, more of an existential dread. 

On No Filter, Kelly explained that she has experienced bouts of depression a few times throughout her life. 

"It can just chop and change so much, but some periods can last months. The longest period of depression for me has been during pregnancy and now postpartum."

In those instances, Kelly relies on a bunch of different things – medication, time and loved ones.

"I had a bunch of close people call me every few hours while I was pregnant (during lockdown) to check in on me, because they knew I wasn't doing well. We call it my 'dark place'. They would call to check in and cheer me up. But there's nothing anyone can do really – you have to pull yourself out," she said.

"All that people can do is be there for the person who is struggling."

Kelly gave birth to her son Lenny in late January 2022, and for her, it was a challenging experience. The labour and birth was quite traumatic and Lenny was crying and screaming significantly with yet un-diagnosed severe gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. It was overwhelming. 

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"He was so difficult, especially early on that I just didn't know what I had done to stuff him up so much. He was such a miserable, unhappy baby. 

"You love them but you don't particularly like them all the time. All babies screamed, but he would scream nine to ten hours a day. Anything more than three hours is considered worth your trip to a doctor to get the baby looked over," Kelly explained. "The sound of your baby screaming hurts."

There were nights where Kelly would only get 15 minutes of sleep. She was turning into a shell of a human.

"It's really lonely at 4am when your baby is crying and won't sleep. It's horrible."

Listen to Mia Freedman interview Kelly McCarren on No Filter. Post continues after audio.


Over time, things have become better for Kelly, now that Lenny is sleeping more. But the impact of postpartum depression has taken a toll.

There have been times Kelly has struggled to cope, and cried continuously. As she said to Mia Freedman: "I've wondered am I ever not going to have a miserable baby? I felt a bit smug about motherhood beforehand because I thought I would be perfect at it. I think I'm a good mum now, but in the depths of postpartum depression and those first few months, I just spent a lot of time texting my husband Luke saying, 'I can't do this'."

For Kelly, postpartum depression for her was fuelled by a negative self belief that she wasn't a good enough mother, and that her son would be better off without her. Of course, it wasn't true.

"When you've got a difficult baby, you don't want other people to think he's difficult, so I thought I was failing him. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression quite quickly."

It wasn't a surprise to Kelly and those around her when she received the diagnosis. Given her mental health over the years, they had all been watching out for potential signs while Kelly was pregnant and after she gave birth. 

"I didn't want it, but I suspected I would get it," she said. 

"Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever done – it is physical, it is emotional, it is everything."

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The treatment for Kelly is an ongoing process. She remained medicated throughout pregnancy, attends weekly psychology sessions and also fortnightly psychiatry sessions. 

As for medication now, Kelly says it has been challenging. 

"They want to send me to a mum and bub psychiatry clinic. They changed my meds, but I had such a bad reaction that I ended up in hospital. It's a mum and baby unit where you can go to get help and to sort my medication out. I need to get better for him. So that's the next step," she said.

Kelly hopes that by sharing her story, she will make others feel less alone – especially mothers. 

"Up until the last five to six years, I've always tried to be someone that I'm not, and tried to hide the real me," Kelly reflected. "At this point it's been almost five months where I haven't slept properly, been in pain, and I don't have anything left. It's a long process. But I'm not alone."

Like so many mums have shared, it's hard to re-establish your identity after motherhood. 

It's something Kelly is still navigating – and that's normal.

"I don't know who I am anymore. Parts of me loves being a mum and hanging out with him, but other times I hate it. It's so boring doing the same things over and over again. I think that's really common, to still be figuring it out. I asked my sister the other day 'will I ever feel like myself again?' And she said: 'No. But you will find a new self'. I guess that just takes time."

For help and support, contact PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) on 1300 726 306.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Feature Image: Instagram @kelly_mccarren.