On Thursday evening I listened to an amazing interview on BBC Evening Extra with Lindsay Robinson, wife of East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson. screen-shot-2015-10-22-at-19-04-13

She talked openly and honestly about her battle with postnatal depression (PND) after having blogged about her experiences in recent weeks. Her interview with Sara Girvin was brilliant and incredibly honest.

Her first blog post opens with the frank statement “I have postnatal depression”. Her blog is absolutely fantastic – I would encourage you to read it and pass it on to anyone that you know who is living with PND – and it is a real insight into what living with this illness has been like for her and her family. This post will hopefully explain a bit about what PND is and what help is available and will include some quotes from Lindsay’s posts.

I have a great deal of respect for those people who have lived with mental illness and who are using their experiences to help others, such as Lynda Bryans who you can read about here.

“I don’t believe that you ever understand the darkness depression brings, until you have faced it for yourself”

For those that don’t know, postnatal depression usually develops within the first six weeks of a woman giving birth, but it can take a lot longer for it to be actually diagnosed. In Lindsay’s case, she wasn’t diagnosed with PND until her son, Reuben, was nearly two years old. Doing some reading around the subject I was somewhat amazed by my preconsceptions of PND – for example, I was surprised to see that it affects around 1 in 10 new mothers which was more than I expected.

The general symptoms of PND are similar to depression and include a persistent feeling of sadness, a lost of interest (especially in your child) and a lack of energy or constant tiredness, something that Lindsay mentions several times.

Postnatal depression can interfere with your day-to-day life and can be associated with increased anxiety. Some women feel they’re unable to look after their baby, or they feel too anxious to leave the house or keep in touch with friends.

Mood changes are very common after giving birth and the phrase “baby blues” is often used to explain such thoughts, for at least a few weeks. After postnatal depression develops, most mothers don’t want to admit their feelings for fear that others will judge them for being a bad mother or for not caring about her child. That is simply not the case.

“You may be tempted to look at me differently, as a mum, and as a person. I am ok with that”

Postnatal depression is a mental illness – if you have it, it doesn’t mean you don’t love you baby. It doesn’t mean you are a bad mother. It doesn’t mean you have failed. It means that you need some help to work through your feelings. PND can be a lonely, distressing and frightening experience, but it is a temporary condition as long as it is identified and then treated.

If you expect yourself, your partner, or indeed any else may be suffering from PND it is vital that they make an appointment to see their GP as soon as possible.

As well as consulting with your GP, there are several ‘self help’ techniques which may help:

  • While this will be very difficult, get as much rest as you can.
  • Take regular, gentle exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Speak to other new mums – either at a toddlers group or online on forums such as MumsNet or the National Childbirth Trust
  • Don’t compare yourself to other new mothers
  • Be kind to yourself – try not and burned yourself with things you don’t need to … you don’t need to be “supermum”

“Hopefully, because I am getting help, speaking up and being heard, it’s a fight that, this time, I will win”

Lindsay tried to tell two medical professionals about her feelings when her son was just a few months old, but they didn’t appear to listen. The most important thing is, following her diagnosis, that Lindsay (and her husband) are starting to get the help that they need. She started taking antidepressants, saw a psychiatrist and meeting with her friend who has experience with PND.

“I am on the road to recovery. It’s going to take time and a lot of it. But each day is a little bit of a set up, rather than a further leap down”

To conclude, as with any mental illness, the earlier that you seek help, the better it is. The thing to remember is that there is help out there, both via your GP and through other mothers who have experienced the same things. Having postnatal depression does not mean that someone is a bad mother and if you think that, you are very much mistaken. As Lindsay says, until you have experienced PND, or indeed any form of mental illness, you can’t even begin to know what the other person is feeling.

I’ll leave the final words to Lindsay.

“Depression is a vile illness, it’s frightening, it’s lonely, and it’s very very dark. It’s only now, as I am beginning to recover that I am starting to understand where I have been and why I have been there… The lie PND has told me is, ‘having no life at all, is better than the life that you have’. The truth is that there is hope; healing; light; a good future; peace; love; and life if we take the steps (no matter how small and slow) towards recovery. I beg you to join me on that journey today.”

 Some useful links: 
NetMums PND page
National Childbirth Trust
Association for Postnatal Illness
Action Mental Health 028 9182 8494
Aware Defeat Depression 08451 20 29 61
PIPS 028 9080 5850
Praxis 028 9023 4555
Samaritans 08457 90 90 90
Lifeline 0808 808 8000
Or visit the Public Health Agency website here