Politics

‘I cried tears of shame and guilt’ Postnatal depression ordeal of Scots Lib Dem mental health spokeswoman

No one wants to be mentally unwell, but that feeling is all the stronger when you are supposed to be at your happiest.

Though I have been a campaigner on mental health issues for many years, when I suffered from postnatal depression (PND) I couldn’t bring myself to tell many of my friends.

Even though I have experienced patches of anxiety and depression throughout my life, that did not soften the blow. I remember just streaming tears full of shame and guilt that I had a long awaited wonderful little family and instead of pure joy I felt a deep, dark sadness.

At first, I kidded myself. I was just getting used to it, oh I’m just sleep deprived – I was and that didn’t help – oh it’s not that bad, everyone finds it a bit hard. Of course, this just bottled up my feelings and made it all worse. My instinct was to put all my energy into caring for my baby, but the unintended consequences of that was that there’s nothing left to care for yourself.

One in ten women experience PND so if you think of ten mothers you know, it’s likely one of them has suffered through this, perhaps in silence.

I do know that hearing other people talk about a similar experience helps and that’s why I have decided to be open about my experience. The truth is, there’s stigma around mental health anyway but particularly perinatal and postnatal depression.

I don’t think you need to be a clinician to know that mental and physical health are closely linked. One thing I learnt this side of birth is I didn’t fully appreciate how tough recovery is. I had a wonderful team at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary but you are still instantly thrust into the hardest job you’ve ever done.

Even with a fantastically supportive partner, it’s a big job. From day one my wrists were weak and would suddenly give way when I was holding her and the fear of dropping her made me so tense and anxious.

At this point I reached out for help but, even knowing that parents of under ones are prioritised on talking therapies lists, it took five months before I was offered my first psychology appointment. My health visitor recommended I contact the charity CrossReach. It seems to be a great charity but in huge demand. When I had been on the list for nearly a year, I asked to be taken off because it just felt like I was never going to get to the top.

Since the pandemic hit these issues have only worsened. Women who nervously stayed at home during pregnancy are now parents raising their kids mostly alone. This takes a huge mental toll but the support is just not there.

Yesterday the Scottish Liberal Democrats asked the Scottish Parliament to declare a mental health emergency. For the same reason MSPs have declared a climate emergency and a drugs death crisis, Parliament needed to do this to drive change, to ramp up services and to improve interventions and prevention.

I know how important it is that parents can enjoy family life rather than suffering, unable to access support, and I hope that with this vote Parliament can get on with ending long journeys and waits for treatment, expanding the mental health workforce and getting everyone fast access to help so that they don’t have to struggle like I did.

Rebecca is the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ mental health spokesperson

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