“And how are you?” said Winnie-the Pooh.
Eeyore shook his head from side to side.
“Not very how,” he said. “I don’t seem to have felt at all how for a long time.”
From Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne.

This Thursday 13th September is RU OK Day, a national day of action that inspires people to ask a simple question of those around them. Are you OK? 

Sometimes a question is all that it takes.

It’s been a year ago since we lost a friend to suicide. A beautiful girl my age, so intelligent and creative and inspiring. Her life was so filled with pain, though, and I suppose on that day, there seemed to be only one answer.

One day is all it takes.

I have spent the last few months working for Lifeline as a telephone crisis support person. I took many suicide calls – people at the brink of despair, clinging on to life, and calling the only number they had at hand. Thank goodness they reached out.

Sometimes a conversation is all it takes.

I have trodden that worn track. The track of despair. I spent years 12 to 22 in bouts of misery and desperation. I struggled with a messy mind, harsh thoughts about myself and deep, empty moods. These moods and these thoughts chased me and hounded me. But I was good at expressing myself, so I emptied buckets of these thoughts and mood eclipses into diaries and conversations with my mum, who was always available to listen.

After taking antidepressants for a year or so, seeking counselling and doing meditation, my inner self mended and I was at last whole in myself. I enjoyed a sunny day. I laughed genuinely with friends. I could love myself. The constant negative whir of thoughts was finally silenced. I could hear myself think.

When I was pregnant with Elka, I worried about my past tendencies and where my mind would take me. I knew that I was at risk of developing postnatal depression. So I surrounded myself with support and nourishment. I was careful never to feel depleted. I walked daily. I slept when I could. I made an effort to connect with other parents. When I struggled, I asked for help. Thankfully, I didn’t experience PND.

Not everyone is so lucky.

Postnatal depression affects one in seven women following the birth of a child. Forty percent of these women begin to experience symptoms in pregnancy. Postnatal depression describes the prolonged and severe symptoms of depression that last longer than a week or two and affect normal functioning. It is very real, and affects many.

There is no specific recipe for developing PND. Risk factors include a history of depression, stressful life events, a baby that is difficult to settle, personality factors, like anxiety and insufficient support networks. Symptoms include loss of enjoyment in things, low self-esteem, a sense of hopelessness…a wish to die.

Sometimes the symptoms can be disguised. Some women are fearful of being detected. Being found to be a bad mother. An unhappy mother. Guilt interweaves with sadness, melancholy and stress. The effect can be devastating.

You may not know somebody is struggling, until you ask.

Thankfully, we live in an age when people are talking about PND. They are also beginning to talk about men who experience PND. Social networks are forming; awareness is being raised; there are many on-line forums for people who experience PND symptoms.  PANDABlackdog Institute and Beyond Blue  are three prominent organisations in Australia, which are striving to educate people about PND and offer guidance and support. Campaigns like RU OK are asking the question.

There is no one solution. There are options, though, and support is available. Parents don’t need to suffer in isolation. They don’t need to reach the brink of despair. When we ask Ask you OK? we are reaching out to those who need our support. Perhaps it is the branch they need.

For RU OK Day this Thursday, please ask, Are you OK? Let’s offer support to those who are struggling. Support can make all the difference to someone’s life.

Please come and join my community at Heart Mama on Facebook.

{Linking with Jess at Diary of a SAHM for I Blog On Tuesdays.}