Dear Louis Theroux,
Firstly, I just want to say I am massive fan. I don’t have a favourite documentary of yours because I genuinely love them all; I have enjoyed everything from watching your Weird Weekends series right up to your more recent films delving into serious subjects such as alcoholism, eating disorders and sexual assault. I admire how you try to shine light and raise awareness about such a variety of different issues and phenomena happening in our modern world. The reason I am writing this letter is to thank you for making your most recent documentary, Mothers on the edge.
Mental illness after pregnancy is a subject very close to my heart and I am so grateful to you for using your incredible investigative journalism and sensitive interview techniques to help share the stories of mums going through something that is often not spoken enough about. Until I had it myself I did not know much at all about postnatal depression, if your documentary had been aired sometime before October 2016 I feel like I would have been much more equipped with knowledge and had a better understanding of what was happening to me. I had also never heard of postpartum psychosis until I was already diagnosed with postnatal depression, I only learnt more about the illness then through my own online research. Mothers on the edge may not have been made and broadcast at the appropriate moment in time to help me, but I am sure by speaking to the mothers in Bethlem Hospital Mother and Baby Unit you have helped to show thousands of new mums that they are not alone in their struggles.
Thank you for speaking to Catherine. Her story shows how easy it can be for mums to hide behind a mask of fake happiness when really they are dealing with suicidal thoughts, feelings of guilt and grief and are struggling to love their baby. Catherine’s story shows that a lot can be hidden behind a made up face, a forced smile and an Instagram account full of pretty pictures. Her relapse and suicide attempt displays how easily these feelings can be disguised, after all, she didn’t seem on the verge of an overdose when she spoke with you and the team at the mother and baby unit that morning. Upset? Yes. Just hours away from attempting to take her own life again? It didn’t seem that way. Thank you for spending so much time with Catherine, for speaking so sensitively to her and for giving her the time and space to speak so honestly about how she was feeling.
Also, thank you for spending so much time with Marie and revealing that previous trauma in earlier life can resurface years later in the form of a maternal mental illness. Marie thought she had somewhat dealt with the sexual assault she experienced when she was younger but the act of giving birth and having a traumatic delivery brought all those feelings back to the surface. Thank you for giving Marie the time to tell her story, her honesty will help other mums who have been through a similar trauma and gone on to struggle with their mental health after having a baby; by sharing her story so openly, Marie will have helped many mums realise they may need some extra support and help too. Also, thank you for highlighting the fact that Marie has not struggled to bond with her baby and for showing how much she loves her child. It is a common misconception that all mums who suffer a mental illness, like postnatal depression, don’t love their baby when for many us this is not the case. You can love your baby but still be depressed. You can love your baby but still have suicidal thoughts.
Thank you for sharing Lisa’s story of recovery. Getting back to the person you were before mental illness is a very long and difficult process and often feels like a completely unachievable goal. Thank you for showing Lisa’s ongoing struggles with anxiety and spending so much time with her at home after she was discharged from the Mother and Baby unit. By seeing Lisa at home, with her three children around her and filming her having difficulty doing things like the school run and making the kids tea, you have highlighted the daily struggles that so many mums dealing with anxiety often endure in silence. Thank you for showing that relapse is a common part of recovery, this will help mums currently on the road back to their old selves see that relapses happen but it doesn’t mean you will necessarily slide all the way back down to the start. It was very insightful to hear about life with a maternal mental illness from the dads perspective. Just as many women find it difficult to open up about their mental illness, dads also go through a lot during this time and often feel like they can not share how the illness is impacting on their own wellbeing as they are not the ones directly having to live with it. Thank you for giving Lisa’s husband a safe space and time to talk about what this experience has been like for him.
Thank you also for sharing Barbara’s story of psychosis. You were able to film a woman right in the midst of her illness and this is not something that is often seen. Your conversation with Barbara’s partner while Barbara was there but clearly dealing with some very confusing thoughts was very powerful to see and really demonstrated what postpartum psychosis can do to a woman’s mind. Mostly though, thank you for staying at the unit long enough for viewers to see that Barbara made a full recovery and for us to hear her say the words so many recovering mums want to hear. To see Barbara talk about her suicide attempt at a train station to hearing her say she felt almost completely back to her old self was so encouraging. By giving Barbara a platform to share her story you have provided hope to mums everywhere who feel like they will never be able to climb up from rock bottom.
I have to also take the time to thank you for speaking so candidly with the psychiatric professionals at the Bethlem Mother and Baby Unit. Their expert knowledge and insight into the various mental illnesses mothers suffer with was informative and eye opening. It was reassuring to hear them say that recovery is possible and it was interesting to see therapy sessions and meetings taking place with real patients, this all helps to show mums watching Mothers on the Edge that there is help out there. The professionals also explained how common mental illness is after pregnancy and how it can happen to anyone. The fluctuation in hormones, sleep deprivation and often trauma that happen during and after giving birth create the perfect environment for mental illness to thrive. Just knowing this single fact will be enough to help some mums struggling believe it is not their fault that they are unwell, their symptoms were not created out of something they did or didn’t do. Maternal mental illnesses like postnatal depression and postpartum psychosis are not a new mothers fault and hopefully by spreading this message mums will feel more confident in seeking help and support when they need it most.
Finally, thank you Louis. Thank you for not only asking the right questions but for getting to know these mums and using your gentle manner to help them feel comfortable enough to open up to you. Thank you for sharing a variety of stories and giving each mum the time to speak so honestly about what they’ve been through. Thank you for being so sensitive and caring and helping your vulnerable viewers at home see that they are not alone if they too are struggling with mental illness. Thank you for covering a subject that is not spoken about in mainstream media anywhere near enough. Thank you for highlighting the complexity of maternal mental health but also for showing that recovery is possible. Thank you for showing mums that hope for a better future is not a wasted venture but something that they can hold on tight to along their journey back to their old selves. Mostly though, thank you for raising awareness, it’s something bloggers like myself and charities try to do every day but by using your platform of the BBC you will be able to spread this important message to more people than we could ever dream of.
Thank you Louis.
Wendy (a PND survivor)
Mothers on the Edge is now available to steam on BBC iplayer
If you feel like you may be suffering with post natal depression here is a list of resources and charities that can help and support you.
If you are feeling suicidal or need urgent help please ring 999 or speak to The Samaritans 116123
If you found this post helpful, you may also like to read the several other posts I have about postnatal depression over in the mental health section of my blog.