I can still recall those early days when our second daughter was born in June 2012; endless tears, long periods of inactivity, terrified to leave the house caused by an unbearable anxiety and despite being surrounded by loved ones a feeling I can only describe as utter emptiness and isolation. This is how I remember seeing my wife in the summer of 2012. My heart still sinks when I think that at the moment our little treasure was born a part of my beloved wife died.
Living with the depression must be grueling but I can't imagine how my wife feels having to live with stigma attached to it. I remember when we told my in laws what she was going through and that she was suffering from an illness called PND (Post Natal Depression) they had just put it down to the baby blues "Everyone feels a little down after having a baby it will soon pass, just put it all behind you and enjoy your new daughter." The fact they had never even heard of PND was shocking enough but the icing on the cake was that they refused to believe that she had it! How could someone in their family suffer from depression, especially a type that they had never even heard of before? Other than the time she discussed her medication with them, which they advised her not to take, I don't think there has ever been a situation in the last two years where we as a family or my wife as a daughter to her parents have ever sat down and talked about her depression. It's the age old solution of 'ignore it and it will soon go away.'
I find myself asking the same question every day, why is there such a stigma attached to my wife's depression? And why would her own family be embarrassed by her illness? Although living in a household with depression is though at the best of times it's not like we need a red cross above the door to ward off the ever optimists who fear they might catch the 'Depression', and it certainly doesn't mean that she's going to be carted off to a mental asylum kicking and screaming.
I believe there is a genuine fear of depression which is most definitely caused by a lack of understanding. This lack of understanding and fear of the disease forces many sufferers to avoid seeking help and hide behind false smiles in order to appear to be living a normal life, ultimately leaving loved ones baffled when they are eventually tipped over the edge. Nobody wants a child with depression just the same as nobody wants a child with cancer, yet both can be just as deadly as each other. The one difference is you wouldn't hide the fact that you or your child had cancer; you would seek help and receive full support from friends, family and the NHS. For a lot of families the stigma attached to depression means that they keep it a secret from the very people who could be offering them a lifeline or possibly even a cure.
My only solution to the stigma question has to be education and awareness; as a 21st century society we shouldn't be treating people with depression like a bad smell. We should be talking to each other, teaching our children and evidently in our case, our parents, to understand that depression won't just go away but can be controlled and lived with providing those that are suffering are offered the love and support they need from friends, family and health professionals on a daily basis.
I and my wife have had to be each other's therapists and confidants throughout this whole episode in our lives, which is far from over yet. However, at least we can now see some light at the end of the tunnel whereas before the tunnel was well and truly sealed. Ultimately what has gotten us to this stage is the love we have for each other, support, a sheer determination not to let depression win and willingness to accept the illness and stick two fingers up the stigma society has attached to it.