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Caring about Mental Health Past Your Own Recovery

Posted Oct 10 2012 6:53am

Postpartum Depression and related disorders suck.   I can't really think of a more direct or plain way to say it.  Feeling depressed and anxious at a time that is "supposed" to be the happiest in your life, and at which you most need to feel well to deal with the incredible emotional and physical energy caring for an infant takes, is awful.  That's the bad news.

The good news is that PPD is 100% treatable.  Now, that doesn't mean curable, or that anyone and everyone who suffers from a perinatal mood disorder will be in perfect mental health once they recover.  What it does mean is that there are great treatment options that vary widely and that each and every woman who experiences PPD, that is not complicated by an underlying and/or subsequent mental illness, should be able to be well again within a reasonable amount of time.

While I didn't have any hope while I was ill after my first son and I did not believe that I would get well, I did.  And I even went on to have a second child and only experienced a brief and mild encounter with PPD (thanks to prompt and adequate treatment) that time.

My youngest child is now 16 months old and my PPD baby has just turned 5.  It would be very easy for me, what with not planning to have more children and all, to never look back and bury my PPD journey forever.  But, I can't.

I can't even imagine moving past my PPD experience in such a way because it would deny not only me, but more importantly others, of the opportunity to reap the benefits of what I learned from it.  There is a quote I once read somewhere that basically states that it is the responsibility of those who know, those who are aware, to take on the burden of what they know for the greater good of those who are ignorant.  How can I possibly ignore what I now know?

PPD has taught me a lot of things, including, but not limited to
  • Mental illness is not the fault of the sufferer.
  • Mental health challenges do not discriminate for race, gender, sexual preference, socio-economic status, or ethnicity.
  • Everyone deserves the opportunity to be well.  (This is not a political statement, merely a statement that we should do all we can to help people with mental illness, rather than harm them.)
  • Saying that there is no longer stigma around mental illness is like saying that racism has been completely eradicated.  It's simply not true.  Stigma is not only present, it is prevalent.
  • While being a "strong" person helps you when struggling with a health problem, your strength will not cure you.  PPD is a real, medical condition and requires real, medical treatment.
  • People who love you usually want to help you, but generally have no idea how to do so.  Finding good progressional and peer support is key to recovery for the majority of those with mental health issues.
  • So, knowing all of that, especially the last point about peer support, how could I possibly turn my back to my experience and to all of the people that I could potentially help by continuing to advocate for and provide support to?

    Perhaps those who have suffered from and recovered from PPD feel that they've already carried their cross and should not continue to endure the burden of mental illness past recovery.  I get that.  The journey was tough, no doubt, and perhaps even long.  And, most certainly painful.  For many, simply thinking about how they felt during the worst moments can cause panic and despair.  I would never suggest compromising one's current mental health by holding onto the past.  

    However, I do think that it is important to consider the positive side of sharing and caring well past recovery.  I, for one, have personally and directly experienced incredible catharsis and even a sense of purpose and call from the PPD experience and my recovery from it.  In addition, I am hopeful that I have provided a bit of hope, support, knowledge, and caring to the hundreds (or maybe more) of families with whom I have interacted by way of this commonality over the past five years.

    The benefits for me, and more importantly for others, far outweigh the risks when it comes to caring about mental health issues beyond my own personal experience with them.  I am so grateful to be well and to love my family and truly enjoy being a mother.  I hope you'll consider how you can show that you care about mental health today, World Mental Health Day , and everyday.  

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