Stigma, being misunderstood, having an important role in society. We have to face all of that if we own up to our short-comings.
Many people misunderstand mental health and it scares them.. I would like to equate it to my lack of understanding of asthma.
In college, most of my guy friends played soccer (including my then boyfriend, fiance, and now husband--all the same guy). A bunch of us girls--and some guys--would rally together, hop in cars, and cheer them on at their games. We were obnoxious. Completely revolting how stupendously ridiculous we were. Watching the game was one thing. Being completely annoying was another.
I didn't know really anything about soccer, and I made up for my lack of knowledge by overcompensating with enthusiasm. However, I was 19 and you can get away with it at 19. So I will no longer berate myself for being a fool.
What I want to say about these soccer games was that our friend, Jon, was the keeper (soccertalk for goalie), and he had asthma.
There were times when we were cheer out encouragement about being careful to breathe. To make sure that he caught his breath. And every time he used his inhaler (which wasn't very often), we would worriedly watch in anticipation of him collapsing on the ground because he was unable to breathe.
Fast Forward 15 years to my life after 9 years at a respiratory clinic. While I still don't understand asthma completely, I understand much more than I did then. Asthma is managed by those who have lived with it their whole lives. Jon wouldn't just collapse onto the field without something major happening.
And most importantly, when used correctly, his medicine helped him. It didn't hurt him. He wasn't dependent on it, but when he needed to open his airways a little more, he would use it once during the game.
This is so similar to mental health problems. Unless you've experienced them yourself, it's hard to explain and to reassure others. We can't be told to man up and get better without help. That's why there are so many counselors. We can't be told to just figure it out and move on. We can't just be watched like a hawk and expect to get better. There are ways to manage the instability. But it's not helpful to have others hovering around waiting for collapse before they try to support us.
I know we don't all have 9 years dedicated to learn about postpartum depression (or anything else for that matter), but I do want to give some suggestions if you know someone who is struggling with it or another mental health complexity.
- Stop saying, "You need some help." And gently get involved by taking them to the doctor yourself.
- Stop waiting for the bottom to fall out before you show support. Bring a meal, visit on a regular basis, pray with them.
- Don't forget about them. It's on the days that seem like they are back to normal that are the hardest. When you see them acting like they were before their baby was born (or before the incident happened), don't assume that everything can go back to normal now. This may be a positive step and more than likely, it is, but that step is a doozy!