A new study, conducted by researchers in Australia, has really got me thinking. It was about depression, and how new research shows that mothers are more likely to suffer depression when their child is four, than when they are newborn. You can read more about it here. The focus for many years has always been on the post-natal, first few months after giving birth and, in my experience, access to the right services to deal with mental health issues falls away dramatically after this time. In the very early months, Health Visitors and other professionals are trained to look out for the signs that you might not be coping. They know what questions to ask and can arrange the help you need fairly quickly, should things go wrong. However, once you've got over that initial 'settling in' phase, help becomes harder to access, not least because you are left to recognise the signs yourself and seek your own help.
That's hard. Really hard. Anyone who has ever suffered depression, will probably agree that it creeps up slowly. To begin with, you can write it off as a bad day, a sleepless night, maybe even a particularly stressful few weeks, or months... It's often someone else saying; 'Are you sure you're ok? How are you coping?', that sets off a chain of events, leading to diagnosis and treatment. But not always. Some people can feel steeped in their own inadequacy, feeling that they should be coping, or more organised or better prepared. Perhaps more like the other mums, who seem to manage so much better. They hide their 'shame' and don't realise, in actual fact, they are up there with up to 14% of mothers of older children. And this is the interesting bit. Is it any coincidence, I wonder, that the age range now defined as the most likely to lead to depression in mothers, half of which are first time parents, is the same as the age that most children start school? The article I read made no reference to a link, but it makes sense to me.
I had my first child at 18. I did it on my own from day one. I had an excellent support network of friends and family, but I lived alone with my daughter and took full responsibility for every aspect of her life. I took to motherhood like a duck to water. I clearly remember, not long after I brought her home from the hospital, looking down at her, lying on a rug kicking her legs about and wriggling away. I remember thinking how I should really be feeling overwhelmed, weighed down by the responsibility of it all. All I felt though, was a kind of peace and contentment. It genuinely felt like she had always been there. As if she had always been a part of my life. As such, my life never really changed, it just carried on, but I had the most wonderful companion to enjoy it with! It is no exaggeration to say I loved every breath in her body. As she grew, we became inseperable. She had a brilliant sense of humour, from a very young age, and everything was more fun together. We didn't have much money, but we would save up for a Sun holiday once a year, and organise picnics and days out. I never thought about how close we were. I certainly never saw it as a bad thing. Then, she started school.
It wasn't obvious at first, I went out with friends, did housework, excercised. I got a part time job, but I just lost myself a bit. I found basic tasks more difficult. I would struggle to keep appointments, I would fall asleep for no reason. I had no motivation to do anything. Looking back, it was classic depression, but at the time, I just thought I was a bit crap. As time, went on, I became less sociable and more introverted. It took a long time for me to realise, and face the fact, that all was not well. I
ended up on antidepressants, which was a huge shock. I wasn't that bad, was I?! I wasn't actually mental?! I had always viewed antidepressants as sort-of sedatives for REALLY bad cases, that couldn't find a way out. It might sound awful, and I know better now, but I felt that if you know something is wrong, you should be able to fix it. I'm a doer, I find solutions, not problems. I have to say though, once I got over the initial shock, and the antidepressants started to take effect, the result was really unexpected. I had more energy and began to feel a bit more like me. The medicine gave me the boost I needed to make practical changes in my life. I enrolled on a college course, got a loopy little dog, life started to make sense again! Once I went back to college, I had less time to myself which really helped, and everything got better. The bond we had still exists 18 years later and I still miss her when she goes to work or college. I probably always will, and I'm fine with that.
I sincerely hope that care for parents of older children will improve as a result of this study, but if you recognise any of the symptoms I described, I really want you to know that it DOES get better. It is not a failure to ask for help, it's the bravest, most unselfish thing you can do. Below are some links that might help.