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Many people had a similar reaction this week to the news of Robin Williams’ death and to the fact that he had been living with depression for years. Like I did, they thought, “I had no idea he was struggling with that.”
But then, why would we? Depression is a lonely and personal battle. People always ask themselves after the fact why they didn’t see the warning signs. They wonder how someone like Williams, or anyone else battling depression, could have suffered so long in silence.
So I’ve been thinking this week about depression and the stigma attached to it that often prevents people from getting the help they need or even talking openly about their struggles. I think this is particularly true in cases of postpartum depression. I am not a mental health expert, but through my own experiences, I believe there are several myths that people fall into thinking about women with postpartum depression. These can severely limit the ability of women to get the help they need.
Myth No. 1 — “How could she be sad? She just had a beautiful, healthy baby.” This is perhaps the greatest myth of postpartum depression, and only serves to make mothers feel guilty. They know their baby is a blessing, but they feel they are being ungrateful by feeling depressed. So they hide their feelings, slap on a smile and pretend nothing is wrong. The truth is, women who have postpartum depression don’t love their babies less. They are not ungrateful for their children or unaware that a new baby should be a time of joy in their lives. They want to be happy, but they feel trapped and scared and guilty that they don’t.
Myth No. 2 — “She seems perfectly fine to me.” Thanks to the shame of depression, many women look and act perfectly fine in social situations. Only their closest loved ones may know they are struggling — and sometimes even they have no idea. Yes, a mother struggling with postpartum depression may be the life of the party, but what you don’t see is how she goes home and sleeps the next day because she is physically and emotionally exhausted from pretending to be happy. When the crowd leaves, she is more alone than ever.
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