'I wasn't just sad, I was sick': Brigid Glanville on postnatal depression

‘I wasn’t just sad, I was sick’: Brigid Glanville on her battle with postnatal depression

Earlier this year I was floored by a Sydney woman’s raw, unflinching, description of her experience with postnatal depression.

‘I can barely recognise myself in the woman weeping at the kitchen table, pressing a butcher’s knife to her arm. But that was me.’

After the birth of her second daughter, Clementine, ABC reporter Brigid Glanville was struggling. And, no, it wasn’t just the run-of-the-mill exhaustion that dogs new parents.

It was postnatal depression.

She was lonely but she didn’t want to see anyone. She was intensely irritable, fragile and she didn’t want to be with her children. There were nightmares.

She knew it wasn’t right but she resisted taking medication – even when it was prescribed. She can’t explain why but she did. That changed after the night it came to a confronting head, the night she sat at her kitchen table and started to cut herself. Clementine woke and she went to get her, sobbing.

“I need to take those pills,” she woke her husband.

Within a week ‘those pills’, antidepressants, made her feel much better.

“Within seven days my whole outlook on life started to change. I began to look forward to spending time with my family. My normal self – capable, outgoing and social – was filtering back into my body.”

Glanville came to appreciate how close to the edge she had been and soon after she decided she wanted to talk about her experience and she became an ambassador for the Gidget Foundation, a not-for-profit that provides provides programs to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents.

The foundation was born from the most tragic of circumstances. Gidget was the nickname of a vibrant young mother who tragically took her own life while suffering postnatal depression almost 20 years ago. She hid her suffering from even her loving family and friends, who created the foundation to ensure that what happened to Gidget would not happen to others.

What happened to Gidget could have happened to Brigid. She knows that.

Hearing Glanville speak at a lunch to mark PNDA Awareness week with total candour about her battle with PND was no less gutting than reading her account.

Glanville deliberately doesn’t airbrush the details. She decided if she was going to write or speak about what had happened she had to be totally honesty. Otherwise it would just perpetuate the idea that PND is wishy-washy. That it’s just feeling tired or run down.

“I wasn’t just sad, I was sick,” she said.

And despite the intense isolation she felt because of it, Glanville was far from alone in her suffering.

Nearly 1 in 5 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers will experience perinatal depression and anxiety and it is often hidden and not fully understood.

PNDA impacts around 100,000 Australians each year, and suicide is the leading cause of maternal death. Nearly 50% of all parents experience adjustment disorders.

The Gidget Foundation seeks to help families deal with this. Their mission is to promote the importance of emotional wellbeing amongst expectant and new parents, their healthcare providers and the wider community to ensure those those in need receive timely, appropriate and supportive care.

The Foundation does this by providing free clinical psychological sessions for expectant and new parents in person at various locations as well as via video link, a Start Talking Telehealth Program, Emotional Wellbeing Screening Programs as well as providing research, education and advocacy in the space.

The Federal government has just announced it will provide $300,000 in funding to ensure the Start Talking program can be extended nationally.

PNDA is hell but it is treatable hell.

Medication and therapy were critical to Glanville’s recovery but being honest about the fact she was struggling also paved the way for the other thing she really needed: help.

Glanville said once she told her friends and family what was really happening, the village stepped up. There were meals made, friends came and took her toddler out, relatives came over to help with the laundry.

These little things sound trivial but they are actually life changing. Particularly for a family navigating through the haze of PNDA.

Glanville had some practical advice for anyone who is either suffering or suspects a family member or friend is suffering with PNDA. Visit the GP. Tell your partner or your family or friends how you are feeling.

If you are worried about a friend ask how they are feeling and don’t stop the conversation if they say they’re fine. Try not to minimise their experience: don’t rush to say that’s how all mothers feel.

Visit. Drop food over. Offer to take their child out or mind their baby while they have a sleep.

It’s heartbreaking to consider how powerful these tiny gestures can be. Particularly given that so many families in Australia function in isolation. If there’s one thing every family needs it’s a village who can share the trials, the tribulations and the triumphs in life.

For immediate help, please contact the PANDA National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306. Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST

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