Wellbeing

The cultural implications of post-natal depression

The one thing I always hear when people find out I suffer from depression is “Ash, I would have never been able to tell. You always look so happy.” And that is the problem: mental ill health is not something that can always be seen and therefore it becomes more difficult to overcome, especially if you don’t seek help or if you come from a culture/community that struggles to recognise mental ill health.

I gave birth to my son on 8th December 2017. Due to complications, it resulted in an emergency caesarean. This left me traumatised and I stayed in hospital for six days.

I was in a lot of pain and struggling to care for my son. My husband supported me throughout the time and stayed with me at the hospital, sleeping on the hospital floor. For the first time I felt dependent, which was hard because usually people relied on me.

When I was able to go home, I struggled with the many changes. I was unhappy with the way my body looked and I was struggling to nurse my baby. I felt pressure from those around me to do things their way and that everything I was doing was wrong. I would find myself crying all the time, questioning my existence and began starving myself.

I remember walking down the stairs carrying my son and I nearly fell because I hadn’t eaten for two days. At that moment I realised, this wasn’t about me anymore. I now have a child who is dependent on me. That night, I sat up in bed crying uncontrollably and said: “I need help.”

I couldn’t believe how the Asian community rejected mental ill health. It was a subject no one wanted to accept existed.

I became vocal about my postnatal depression because I wanted women to start talking about it more, that they shouldn’t be ashamed of admitting that they are struggling.

This has made me want to talk about it more, because no one should have to suffer in silence. We have so much help out there and not treating it will only make it worse.

It upset me to find out how many women didn’t admit to postnatal depression. My question would be: why have you never said anything? They would say, “no one accepts mental ill health” or “what have you got to be depressed about?” When one wife said she was struggling, her husband said “you’re not the first to give birth, get over it.”

This has made me want to talk about it more, because no one should have to suffer in silence. We have so much help out there and not treating it will only make it worse.

I was so lucky to have the support from my managers at the time. My manager Claire Simpson and Marianne Hanjaras always kept me in the loop about jobs I would be interested in. With their support I even got promoted to Talent Development Specialist while on maternity leave.

I no longer felt like my career was going to be put on hold just because I had a baby.

Being open about depression helped me because I realised how much support I had.

My advice is don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be embarrassed. Just like any other illness, it is important to treat mental ill health.

by Ash Ahmad

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