Posted by: Heather Coleman | April 5, 2013

#HAWMC Day 5: As a Health Activist, I Aspire to End Stigma

Making the Impossible Possible Graphic

Today is the day to think big! If I could do anything as a Health Activist, I would definitely put an end to stigma around mental health. I would especially like to help end stigma around issues that affect women, such as postpartum mood disorders, anxiety/depression, and postpartum psychosis. The reason that I feel this is so important is that I think stigma prevents people who need help from getting it. It also keeps people from talking about their mental health with others, which can be extremely helpful for overall well-being, and educating people about these conditions.

I feel as though new mothers are a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to mental health and stigma. There is a lot of societal pressure to be the perfect mother and conflicting advice coming at you from every direction: you must breastfeed or you’re a failure, formula worked best for my kids, you have to make your own baby food, don’t buy that brand of stroller, this works best for colic, and on and on and on. Oh and you just happen to be operating on two hours of sleep, if you’re lucky! Then you add in the hormonal roller coaster and you begin to question yourself, “Is this just the baby blues or is there something else going on?” And then you go a step further and ask, “What if something else is going on and I tell someone, they think I’m crazy, and then they take my baby away from me?” That’s some really scary shit right there. Wouldn’t it be better if you had women you knew sharing with you honestly some of their own personal thoughts and emotions as new mothers, even if it wasn’t “perfect”, even if it was “scary”, like “One night while burping him with a burp cloth I wondered what would happen if I smothered him with it“, a very real story shared by Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, in Newsweek. I’m very thankful that there WAS a Postpartum Progress website after I suffered from postpartum psychosis, a place where I could identify with other women’s stories, and learn about my illness. I’m extemely proud of the fact that I shared my own story as a guest bloggerand provided input into the symptoms of postpartum psychosis (in Plain Mama English). Since that time I’ve seen even more posts about postpartum psychosis, a very good thing indeed. Every story is a step in the right direction. It means another woman will learn that she is not alone and it could even convince her to reach out for help if she needs it.

Now that I’ve become more comfortable with sharing my story, even through public speaking, I want to take it a step further. I want to reach out to organizations that can truly make a difference against stigma, like Postpartum Support International, Mental Health America, and Action Postpartum Psychosis, to see how else I can help educate and support women on the topic of mental health. That is my next big health activist goal. What’s yours?

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