Opinion — 05 February 2014

I have been intimately involved in the perinatal mental illness, (PMI), space for over 3 years now in roles such as a survivor, peer support, education, service provision and public speaking. I have learnt a lot. I have seen a lot. There are themes I see and experience repeatedly.

Those who see themselves as highly successful, capable and competent people – type A personalities – also often have very high expectations about their ability to parent. So, if they find themselves struggling and not meeting their own expectations, it can be almost impossible to admit it, especially to themselves because they may see it as a failure. If this gap between expectation and reality is a chasm, your stress levels elevate, and your risk of PMI may be higher.

This group of parents are often the last to reach out for help, and their illness often worsens due to their silence.  Their “mask of motherhood” is firmly in place. There is still a perception within society that PMI, and in particular, postnatal Peach Tree logo (2)depression, happens mostly to weak and disadvantaged members of our community. Not so! This attitude benefits neither the disadvantaged nor the advantaged. Mental illness does not discriminate.

This brings me to my point. Public figures are highly driven and motivated people right? They have to be, or they would not have attained the success they have. They must fall in to that category – the Type A personality. Lots of them are parents aren’t they? If 16% of mothers and 10% of fathers experience postnatal depression then at least 16% of famous mothers and 10% of famous fathers must experience it too. How many famous people do you know have shared their experience of postnatal depression? I only know of a few and thank you so much to them! There has to be heaps more of them out there. Why don’t we hear from them? Do they see it as a weakness or failure within themselves?

My message to them is that it is most certainly not a failure or weakness and I am so sorry if you feel that way. This is the stigma associated with mental illness that we must break down! It is an illness and we must provide treatment and support for it as we do for any other illness. It is not embarrassing to admit to having a mental illness- at least it shouldn’t be. I tell my own personal story of postnatal depression with almost monotonous regularity, and I have often been told how brave I am to share it. It shouldn’t take bravery to say you are sick! Bravery is required when you fear an outcome of your actions but you do it anyway. No-one should have to fear anything after sharing their story of mental illness, yet most of us do. We fear judgment and discrimination. I have decided that I will not be concerned with those fears. Those who judge or discriminate against me do so out of their own fears and lack of knowledge, and if we want those reactions to be different, then we must provide information. That is what I am doing.

Imagine the shift that could take place in the community’s thinking if lots of famous folk came out and admitted to PMI with their heads held high and stated how they wish they had more support, they wish they didn’t let it go for so long, and they wish more people understood what they were going through? It could be huge! All those unwell parents out there would suddenly be given permission to ask for help; to be honest about their experience; would not fear judgment quite so much; and might reach out to others whom they are worried about. Wouldn’t it be fantastic?!

The fact is, we live in a society that is media driven. What we see and hear via the media, guides us to what we think about almost everything.  Famous people get the media’s attention. Those with a public profile have the power to inform the community, change our thinking and break down the stigma of mental illness.

I would like to thank all those with a public profile who have done just that. You are my heroes. Right now, I would like to add someone to that list who has just agreed to speak publically on this issue. Justin Leppitsch, coach of the Brisbane Lions Football Club. You are my newest hero. Hopefully not the last!

Listen to Justin Leppitsch and his wife Christie, along with Kylie Brown, wife of Jonathon Brown, speak about their experiences with perinatal mental illness at the upcoming Growing Hope Luncheon hosted by Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness and PANDA.

Be part of the solution. Get your tickets here.


Debbie Spink is Founder and Managing Director of Brisbane-based organisation Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness. Visit their website here and their Facebook group here.


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