‘Post-natal depression’ is an imposing expression. You may have also heard it referred to as post-partum, or perinatal depression.
When we think of someone with post-natal depression, many of us picture a person unable to complete simple tasks, unable to get out of bed, unable to find any happiness whatsoever.
For some women, that unfortunately rings true. Post-natal depression can indeed be crippling and all-consuming. It can even be life-ending.
For others, however, post-natal depression looks very different. It can be dreading the moment your baby wakes up from its nap. It can be cloudiness or anxiety or just an ‘off’ feeling you can’t quite put your finger on.
Because, like many other mental illnesses, depression exists on a spectrum. You might not be constantly bubbly, or consistently down-hearted. It’s unlikely you’ll be elated at everything, or inspired by nothing. You’re probably going to be somewhere in the middle.
That’s the truth. But unfortunately, we’ve created a narrative; one whereby post-natal depression always looks like an inability to leave bed or put on clothes or feed a child. Many mothers are neglecting their mental health, and insisting they are fine on the basis they have the will to breastfeed their child.
And that’s a worry.
“We have this perception of what post-natal depression looks like,” clinical psychologist Kirstin Bouse says on Mamamia’s Year One podcast. “It doesn’t have to look like ‘not getting out of bed’… we can go through the motions; we can do the feeding; we can do the nappy changing. It doesn’t mean we’re not depressed while doing all of that.”
In other words, women are incredible at doing what needs to be done. Clinically depressed or not. Just because you have the will to breastfeed your baby doesn’t mean you are okay.
Christie Hayes, actor and mum-of-two, understands this all too well. Within the first few weeks of giving birth, Hayes felt something was wrong. Her friends, however, convinced her that her symptoms weren’t ‘severe’ enough to be post-natal depression.
“I was thinking ‘I feel like I need help’, but I got mixed messages from people who said, ‘Oh if you had [post-natal] depression you wouldn’t be able to get out of bed.”