Let’s Talk Mental Health
Foreword by Nora Latapi-Dean (pronouns: she/her), SW Leadership Academy Inclusion Coordinator
Though two individuals may have the same diagnosis, they will likely never have the same illness because everyone’s illness is individual to them. Because each of our illnesses are unique to us, our experiences of them are inimitable – we are affected differently by the illnesses and so our lives are different from each other’s. There’s no need to feel intimidated or under pressure by people’s different experiences. We’re all human, we’re all different, and we all need support to help each other through!
Having a baby is a huge life event; thus, it’s normal to experience a range of powerful emotions while pregnant and after giving birth: excitement, joy, anxiety. However, people tend to feel shame around feeling depressed – nevertheless, it is crucial to understand that postnatal depression (PND) is not a sign of weakness or anything to feel guilty about. And though many are aware of PND, it is less known that many people also experience antenatal depression, and some individuals may experience both.
Statistics in the UK
• The number of new mothers in the UK who experience postnatal depression, also called perinatal depression, is around 1 in 10.
• Approximately 1 in 8 British women also experience depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression).
• The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that around 25% of women with postpartum depression still experience symptoms after their new baby turns one.
It’s worth noting that PND doesn’t only affect new mothers. Studies have found that around 50% of men who have partners diagnosed with PND will go on to develop depression themselves and approximately 10% of new fathers also experience symptoms of depression during the postnatal period.
Sadly, this mental health issue is much more common than the figures reveal- PND symptoms go unreported and untreated, so they cannot be accurately accounted for in public health statistics. As such, some health care providers believe the condition’s prevalence could be at least twice as much as what is actually reported and diagnosed. Numerous studies conducted on this condition provide important statistics that partly shed light on the pervasiveness and magnitude of what is a mental health global phenomenon.
Below, Lucy Peach (she/her) , South West Leadership Academy Leadership Development Senior Manager shares a very raw account of her experience of first-time pregnancy, postnatal depression, and motherhood during a global pandemic, as well as the difference having a compassionate, supportive, and inclusive team can make.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can support colleagues, friends and family currently struggling with PND, please visit: Royal College of Psychiatrists – Postnatal depression.
*Warning – Lucy’s story contains content about mental health topics such as depression and anxiety some may find triggering. *
Emotions are temporary but feelings can last forever
By Lucy Peach (she/her)
In 2020 I was made redundant from a company I’d worked in for 14 years. I first learned of the potential redundancy 2 weeks into working from home due to the government orders following the news of a global pandemic. The world was turned on its head with no knowledge of when or if things would return to ‘normal’. This story isn’t really about the pandemic although we all know that living with that as a backdrop in our existence had huge and differing impacts, so when I think back, I find it interesting to consider that in my personal context.
When we think of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion I think we generally think of those in minorities or marginalised positions, but I don’t typically fit that demographic: I’m female, white British, Heterosexual and cis-gender, and I live without disability. Not the profile of someone perhaps that would typically talk about themselves through the lens of ED&I but I volunteered to write this article because at some time or other in life, we are all in a position of feeling lonely, isolated or in a minority, and the subject of ED&I takes countless different forms. I also believe it’s an important principle in life to be empathetic and mindful that a person’s biggest problem is their biggest problem. We all know there are complex, longer-term, more difficult days being faced by others in the world but that shouldn’t invalidate what we each feel and think in times of challenge.
The shock of redundancy hit me like a bolt of lightning. I found myself suddenly in a precarious job market because companies were closing left right and centre as they were forced to close their doors or change their operating model, leaving them with huge wastage on their balance sheets. A lost cause I felt it was but regardless, set to work exploring the job market. I was really lucky. It wasn’t long until I was invited to interview with the SWLA. I was offered the job and although it would mean a pay reduction for me, I happily accepted the position.
With the backdrop of Covid-19, working through a long notice period and battling stress-induced insomnia, the days were mentally and emotionally hard, long, and anxiety-riddled. Something that compounded those feelings even more was finding out shortly after accepting the role that I was pregnant. Elated and terrified in equal measure, the stress and anxiety worsened as I was consumed with fear of sharing the news with my new employer and an obsession about whether the baby was healthy. I had no idea of how my new employer would react to the news, but I didn’t want to share it until a safe number of weeks. When I did explain my position to my new employer, I was congratulated with genuine warmth.
I really enjoyed the job and the work, but in private I really struggled mentally; I couldn’t get a grip on the anxiety. Thoughts of the baby’s health consumed my mind, regardless of being told at every check-up that everything was healthy and in average range. As someone familiar with the feelings of depression, I was acutely aware of my emotional state and took all the support I was offered through my midwife to speak to counsellors throughout my pregnancy. The insomnia never improved – the sleep deprivation was 9 months deep and I was about to have this compounded by new motherhood and a new-born sleep schedule (or lack thereof!).
The delivery of my son would to many, sound relatively routine but I had nothing to compare it to, and after an induction, epidural, theatre prep for a C-section and forceps delivery on top of the stress and anxiety I’d experienced in the 10 months prior, I was all over the place. This sensation of ‘out of body-ness’, where you feel like you’ve been living on a cruise ship for months, topped and tailed with long haul flights and 9 time zones, still couldn’t articulate what was going on in my mind and body.
I remember being empty, just numb, a sensation of swimming, and not connecting to anything – and particularly not my son. I couldn’t understand how he was mine. I never had a feeling of wanting to hurt him, but I remember thinking when my husband had taken him out for a walk in the pram that I didn’t care if he didn’t come home. And I would cry for even thinking it, for how it wasn’t what I expected, cry for the huge mistake I felt I made and mourning for my old life. Knowing myself, knowing this was more than hormones, more than sleep deprivation, more than anxiety, more than baby blues I called the midwives on the phone and just cried for what felt like an eternity before whispering, ‘I need you to help me’.
The care and support I was given was nothing short of incredible, and I will forever be grateful for the uniformed angels that pulled me back to reality and helped me breathe again. They took my depression seriously but never did I fear being assessed or judged as a mother – they just listened, hugged me, made me sweet tea, and held my baby while they gave me space to cry, no matter how much of their time I took up. They arranged an emergency appointment with my GP who referred me to perinatal support and started me on anti-depressants. My mood was assessed by psychologists and after some counselling and regular check-ins from my GP, midwife, and health visitor I got stronger, bit by bit, day by day. And in parallel, my bond with my son became more apparent and the love I wanted and expected to be flooded with immediately, gradually came day by day.
When my son Teddy (see below) was 7 months old, my boss called me to tell me he’d taken a new job and there would be a vacancy for his position which I was invited to apply for. To my shock I was offered the role and happily accepted but I was really nervous. I would be returning to a more senior post after 9 months of maternity leave – only talking about my child, rather than any professional, intellectual conversation. Even now I have to keep my imposter syndrome in check – the internal monologue I recite is ‘Why not me? I know this. I’m doing this’. I’m so grateful to my team for taking account of my interest in the position even though I was still on maternity leave and had had a challenging time in the early stages of motherhood – the option was never discounted. That to me is a great example of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – being open about opportunities and welcoming applications and hiring people that are the best for the role, regardless of their current circumstances and based on their merit.
If there’s anyone reading this that would like to talk about anything I’ve fleetingly touched on here, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, it’d be great to hear from you: [email protected].
If you are struggling and need to speak to someone, we encourage contacting the Samaritans – click here Samaritans- If you’re having a difficult time for support.