I read an article today that told the stories of women experiencing postnatal mental health issues. I believe that the solution to much stigmatisation is to tell our stories, and keep telling them, until people realise that it can affect anyone. But this article rubbed me the wrong way.
There are three stories in the article, and each one had an instance of the way mental illness is maligned – it’s so ingrained that even people who have experienced it repeat the anti-mental illness lines.
The first piece tells of Meegan Hirst’s struggle with postnatal depression. The line that wound me up was “The medication – I only went on that because I left it so late for getting any help. There are alternatives to antidepressants, natural antidepressants”. This thinking – that getting help at the right time will prevent the need for antidepressants – devalues the experience of people that need antidepressants, even when they get help in a timely manner. It also propagates the idea that you don’t *really* need antidepressants for depression – an idea that is true for some people, and hugely damaging for others.
Meegan also says that if a mother-and-baby psych unit had been available, “I would have got over it and sorted myself out.” The idea of ‘getting over it’ is another crushing theme in mental health care – even if she’s not intending to, she’s using language that devalues the process of becoming well again.
Emma Green also suffered post-natal depression. She too was prescribed antidepressants. She says that “Because I’m not a big believer in medication [anti-depressants], I took half a tablet every two days, then one tablet every two days.” Modifying your treatment plan on your own because you don’t believe in medication is not a message that should be going out to mental health patients. Treatment plans are created by experts and tailored to your needs, using the best science available. It’s not always perfectly done, some doctors aren’t great, but doing what you want with your medication is more likely to not help you. Mental health patients are vulnerable to anti-medication ideas that can be very harmful.
Finally, there is the story of Bronwyn, who experienced post-partum psychosis. The thing that bothered me about her story is that she opted for a pseudonym, because she was afraid of the stigma around mental illness.
These stories are the personal tales of three women, and they’re only chronicling their own journeys. But each of them reflects in some way some of the problems facing mental health clients – particularly around medication, which is one of the least accepted facets of mental health treatment.