Post-partum Depression, like most mental health issues, has long been dismissed as just an imaginary experience, and not what it actually is – a real condition which can impair a woman’s daily functioning and an experience that can have serious long term impact on the mother’s relationship with her child.
In India, about 22 percent of women are known to suffer from post-partum depression, according to a report by the WHO. The biggest barrier towards research on and around post-partum depression has been a thick wall of silence around the issue. It is often a cardinal sin for a mother to express that she is feeling anything but blissfully happy after childbirth.
IRS officer Shubhrata Prakash turned author with her book The D Word, putting down on paper her experience of facing, denying, accepting and finally coping with postpartum depression.
Here’s what she told us:
When I was diagnosed with depression, I just didn’t know what it meant, what it was all about. The journey that I had, fighting depression trying to get better, I was held back by unawareness on what it was, what causes it, and how to deal with it.
What are your thoughts on how gender plays a role in mental health?
Although mental health is important for everyone, gender does play a role when it comes to mental disorders or mental illnesses. For example, women are more likely to develop mental disorders on account of various factors, including the body and the various roles the hormones play in their life. And also a lot of social structures which do affect women more than men. But once someone has a mental illness or a mental disorder, men find it difficult to accept that they have a disorder. Society is more permissive of a woman crying. But men always have to be strong and they are not supposed to be weak or cry.
But then there is the flip side as well, that women often do not find their mental health issues taken seriously because it’s so easy to label women “drama queens”, and thats the end of it. People really don’t see seriously what happens to a woman. So yes, there are a few subtle gendered nuances and differences in the way mental health plays out in society.
What motivated you to write a book about your post-partum depression journey?
When I was diagnosed with depression, I just didn’t know what it meant, what it was all about. The journey that I had, fighting depression trying to get better, I was held back by unawareness on what it was, what causes it, and how to deal with it. On top of everything else, I was really having a hard time explaining it to people around me, because of the stigma and all the misconceptions and misperceptions that exist in society around depression. Most people in society believe that depression is just a weakness of character. People who have depression make the choice of lying in bed and don’t make any effort to get better. And I’ve heard a lot of such things. Like, “It’s all in your mind. It’s just not real. Get up and get moving already.” So in the backdrop of all this, my recovery was very seriously hampered.
It was around the time when I was trying to get better, that I kept researching my condition. I came across so much of research on the Internet and that is the time that I thought that let me just put this out to other people. Let people read what exactly depression is all about and I also wanted to give a little hope to other people like me who were suffering. This can happen to anybody. It can happen to you, it happened to me. And let’s just fight the stigma that exists around depression. I just wanted to say that it’s alright, I have a mental health condition. I have a mental illness and living the state.
Writing the book was like therapy for me. In fact, I was looking for ways to help myself get better. My whole family, including my therapist, just encouraged me to keep writing.
It’s just like any physical illness. So this is the backdrop against which I decided to write a book on my experience of living with depression. Half of my book gives information about the disorder – what causes it, what can be the contributing factors, what are the various possible options of treatment available. I wrote it because there is not much information about the treatment that is readily available in a concise manner anywhere. So I have tried to put all of that in one book that was called a “survival guide to depression”, that if you pick up the book you will get to know a b c of everything. If, in case, you have the elders or someone in your family who has the illness, this might help.
I also wanted to fight a lot of myths that are around mental disorders including depression and that is also included in the book.
What was your writing process like? What did it take to pour out an intimate experience on pen & paper? In what ways did it help?
Writing the book was like therapy for me. In fact, I was looking for ways to help myself get better. My whole family, including my therapist, just encouraged me to keep writing. Because this was a passion for me since I was a child. I did not have anything formally published to my name. We just thought that let’s explore this and let’s see how writing a book and getting it published would help restore some of the self-esteem and self-worth that depression had completely eroded. So, inspired by all the goading, I decided to write the book. So yes, definitely it was a very therapeutic experience because it gave me something to do.
Because I was researching my condition for a very long time, so giving information was not that difficult. But the part where I write about my own journey was very difficult to write. I didn’t want to read something that was very sad or something that would pull people. It’s a grim subject. So it should still make for an interesting read. Because I was writing about myself, about my life, about my family – it was very intimate. So I had to maintain a very careful balance.
I was also very clear about the fact that what I am writing in the book is just the story of my illness. It’s not the story of my life. I want my readers not to feel sorry for me when they finish, but rather just see it from the point of view of someone who has depression, who lives through it, and what do they go through every day, how does life all around them affect their illness and that there is a path to recovery. Sometimes you feel so sad, you just feel like crying. Sometimes you feel very angry. Depression is shades of all of this. In fact, 80 percent of the book was written at a time when I was having severe withdrawal from my medication, and it was a very difficult time.
This can happen to anybody. It can happen to you, it happened to me. And let’s just fight the stigma that exists around depression. I just wanted to say that it’s alright, I have a mental health condition. I have a mental illness and living the state.
How did publishers take to such a theme? How easy or difficult was it to pitch a book around this theme?
My publishers were very encouraging when I pitched the book. They said they really liked the book proposal, with a little bit of trepidation because this was my first book.
In fact, we hardly touched the personal part in the editing process – it even contains all the disability I felt when I was writing it. But it was a very pleasant experience overall.