Whether you’ve found yourself in the deep and dark depths of depression and anxiety or you know someone who has/is suffering the symptoms, mental illness is everyone’s business.
A recent study of more than 10,000 women in the Jean Hailes Women’s Health Survey 2017 revealed that 40 percent of women have been professionally diagnosed with depression or anxiety with the worst affected between the ages of 18 and 35. That’s almost one in two women professionally diagnosed, so that doesn’t even account for the silent sufferers who haven’t taken that first step to get help.
According to Beyond Blue, it’s estimated that 45 percent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with about one million adults experiencing depression in any one year.
This week, as our friends at PANDA raise awareness of Perinatal Depression and Anxiety, a common disorder that affects one in five expecting or new mums and one in 10 dads, I wanted to lift the lid on some reasons why those who suffer remain mute.
Written out of my own personal experience and journey, it may just help us to either recognise the faulty thoughts we hold or provide a clearer insight into how others may be struggling. At best, I hope that in having these open and honest discussions – as uncomfortable as they can be – we can become more aware and as a result, point ourselves/others towards help and onto the road to recovery.
1. I thought I was OK but was actually in denial
When I was in the throes of PND, PTSD and OCD, I had no idea what was happening. I had read statistics and had doctors/midwives in my ear, explaining what having a baby can do to your mental health i.e. make you go batshit crazy. But sadly, I was in denial because “How could that possibly happen to me?” I was a strong and independent person who did not and could not let anything get me down.
What started as a bit of mild anxiety and depression continued to worsen as I endured typically normal occurrences in life: having a baby, moving house, starting a business and managing our son’s bleeding disorder. My denial was doing me no favours and if anything, was only delaying and worsening the condition.
Terri Smith, PANDA CEO states, “Unfortunately, PND tends not to discriminate and can affect any new or expecting parent. Many people still don’t seek help as quickly as they should and suffer for longer than necessary because they don’t know what’s happening to them and don’t know where to go to seek help.”
If you’ve ever wondered what depression and anxiety ‘looks like’, here it is. This was taken in March, 2016 about two weeks before I was admitted to the mental health unit of my local hospital for PND, PTSD and OCD. I was in the severe category, which pretty much means anxious and depressed as heck. May is Mental Health Awareness Month in America. To me, awareness should span 365 days a year across all continents, because it effects more people thank you think. I used this picture to illustrate that being mentally ill doesn’t actually LOOK like anything. Often, you can’t tell if someone is sick unless you make the effort to ask. Even so, getting past the typical “I’m fine” response can take time and patience. From both ends. And for goodness sake, don’t trust what you see on social media. We’re all good at hiding behind the “everything’s perfect” facade, when sometimes our world is crumbling beneath us. We really have come a long way when it comes to identifying, treating and talking about mental health. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are still a countless number of ‘silent sufferers’ out there feeling ashamed to speak up and get help. I would encourage anyone who feels like they’re not coping to take a minute to stop and talk to a trusted friend. More often than not, people are generally sympathetic and compassionate to the situation. Of course, turn to the professionals when needed but remember, the shame and guilt is just a feeling and not a true reflection of how other people perceive you. That’s just your mind playing tricks on you, trying to stop you from getting help and experiencing freedom. From the other end, I think we all could do with improvement when it comes to looking out for each other. We are busy beyond belief these days, but let’s not use that as an excuse to live tunnel visioned looking out for our own interests only. I know, it’s harder said than done. I get that. But simple things like a phone call, a text message to say you’re thinking of someone, a gift, anything to show that you care can open up a door to conversation. #endthestigma #ruokday #reachout #beyondblue #babyblues #blogsandbanter
2. I thought mental illness was incurable
By the time I could barely do basic things such as grocery shopping and eating out without having panic attacks, I sought help. It was a HUGE step for me mentally because I was so scared that I would be diagnosed, locked up and left to die in a mental institution. Of course, it was just my mind playing tricks on me (and too many psychological thriller movies), but it was a monstrous fear I had to overcome in order to get better.
Though psychiatric disorders can be serious, they are all 100 per cent treatable and manageable. In Australia, we are not short of amazing support services such as Beyond Blue, RU OK?, PANDA, Lifeline and The Black Dog Institute to name a few. Not to mention the number of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologist that are in close proximity for professional help. Don’t be afraid to reach out as it’s the first and probably biggest step towards getting better.
3. I thought I was weak and was afraid to speak up
Discussing our mental and emotional problems doesn’t exactly make for typical dinner party talk. It may be uncomfortable and lead to awkward silences, but you know what? Talking about it saves lives. The number of people who never got to experience freedom due to being silenced and giving up is staggering. That’s right – I’m talking about suicide rates in Australia increasing year-on-year.
At what point does it become socially acceptable to bring up a personal issue we’re struggling with, whether it be depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, fears and worries? ALWAYS. The answer is ALWAYS. It may not be easy and takes a bucket load of courage, but reaching out is worth it.
Further, mental illness is definitely not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s often a sign of chronic stress as a result of the incredible pressures we face today. What I thought was weakness actually ended up being a signal for me to slow down and not take on so much. I’ve had to make huge adjustments to my life such as taking full-time work completely off the cards whilst raising children and cutting down on unnecessary commitments.
Psychologist Kirsten Bouse on what post-natal depression really looks like, and strategies for coping. (Post continues below.)
4. I thought I was the only one suffering
In speaking up, I found that almost everyone I spoke to was not only compassionate and understanding, but had either been through or were currently struggling with the same issue! Ironically, they also didn’t dare speak up due to the same fear – the fear that we all hold – of ridicule, judgement, isolation and shame. AKA the big bad STIGMA!
Do you know what the stigma is? It is a false notion in our head that we’re all alone and nobody cares. It is the lie we naively believe that no one else on this planet would ever understand so it’s best to say nothing.
To silence the stigma, let’s consider the statistics and put it all into perspective:
About every second woman you work with has anxiety and depression.
About every second woman in your family has anxiety and depression.
About every second woman in your mum’s group has anxiety and depression.
About every second woman you see at your gym has anxiety and depression.
About every second woman you ever encounter, come into contact with, talk to or regularly socialise with has anxiety and depression.
If you need a visual of the vast number of people PND affects, check out this ‘It happened to me’ poster. You can also read about the number of women who suffer from chronic anxiety and worry.
Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week (12-18 NOV) is just around the corner and we’re encouraging people everywhere to start a conversation about perinatal anxiety and depression. Talking about this illness in communities right across Australia will help raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression and postnatal psychosis, show how common it is and help to reduce stigma. To find out how you can get involved and help raise awareness in your community subscribe to PANDA’s enews for updates > https://www.tfaforms.com/4635099 #bePNDAaware #PNDAawarenessWeek #parenting #babyblues #HowIsDadGoing
5. I thought people were too busy to care
As we are a society that prizes busyness whilst juggling the growing responsibilities of ‘adulting’, it can seem like people are too busy to care. This isn’t necessarily true and instead, I have learnt that they are sometimes just too busy to notice.
We all have personal, family, career and social pressures busting at the seams but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t available to listen or lend a helping hand when needed. Generally, people love to be helpful and useful.
When I eventually divulged all to family and friends, we suddenly had people practically emerging from the bushes offering to babysit, bringing us meals, praying for us and sending scriptures and positive affirmations. While they couldn’t ‘fix’ it all, they were incredibly supportive, which I truly believe was a key element to my recovery.
In wrapping up, I just want to say that the more we speak up, listen and share our stories, the less power mental illness has over us as individuals and society as a whole. Being open and honest disarms the shame and stigma associated with depression and anxiety and can actually be the difference between life and death.
For 24-hour support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Help is also available Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST via the PANDA helpline (1300 726 306).
Mindi Palm is the founder of BLOGS X BANTER, as well as a professional writer for online media specialising in creating content that clicks. Her straight-up, comical approach to modern motherhood, wellness and mental health inspires women of all body shapes, backgrounds and beliefs to love and embrace the inner fruitcake.