Health issues are collective, it's time we recognise that
Updated: Jul 25
I came very late to the "Nashville" party...and it's been everything I could have hoped for - the bubbles of soap with a modern day twist - and rather fabulous acting from a musical cast. Like many I've jumped onto the Avery/Juliette bandwagon - played by the insanely talented Jonathan Jackson and the superbly multi-faceted Hayden Panettiere, and while I've only reached the start of their relationship in Season 2 I am aware of the story arc which takes us down the road of post-partum depression.
It is wonderful that dramas are tackling such subjects - Nashville addresses alcoholism, drug addiction (including how easy it is to spiral into and painful to claw yourself out), and homosexuality in a storyline that understands that hiding is as much a disservice to acceptance as bigotry. Of course, there have been criticisms of the dramatic choices for the portrayal of Juliette's post-partum depression, but much praise for a show which has dared to show the effect on the relationship as well as the mother.
This is not a blog specifically about post partum depression - although I will say that every experience with any disorder is personal and while there are a set of symptoms common to assist with diagnosis, it is never possible - nor appropriate - for any scriptwriter to cover every single experience; as the viewer we need to be aware of the need for the integrity of the roles. (I personally feel the choices worked for the nature of "Nashville" and at least the dialogue is open with regards to the topic.) However, what I wanted to look at was the importance of recognising the effect that health issues can have on the whole family.
Sadly, people may often choose to hide what they are going through so as not to be a burden to those close. However, if that person doesn't find support elsewhere the point of crisis can be very difficult to step back from - and the aftermath can be just as damaging on those they wanted to protect. Similarly, when the family is trying to help, the effect on them can become too much to bear - for their own mental health.
This is not to assign blame on anyone. I come from the school of thought which believes that it is the health issue that is the "problem". For me, the therapist works WITH their client to fight the illness...and then once it is either removed or becomes managable, the client is supported in nurturing a new life with this "new normal" as their starting point. With the right tools you can flourish in all environments.
This is why it is important to appreciate that discussions on health are essential for all those involved to participate in. Perhaps it was because the story involved two of the show's most highly developed characters they were always going to portray post-partum depression from both points of view, but Nashville was able to show Avery's recognition of the change in Juliette's behaviour, as well as the strain his constantly frustrated attempts to help - either by his wife's illness, or some of those around her - placed on him emotionally.
This is where we can all learn.
Recognise the signs
If we all begin to become more aware of recognising the signs of illness eg:
- Do we notice patterns - or changes in behaviour - of those close to us?
- Do friends suddenly start talking in "all or nothing" syle statements eg "everyone hates me"?
- Is someone more withdrawn? Or more exhausted?
- Has there been a change in eating habits? Self-care habits? Habits in general?
- Is someone more irritable?
- Is someone making more mistakes than ususal?
...to list a few
If we can assist in seeking help (ideally before the point of crisis), we might make more of a difference. If we can talk more openly about our concerns, if there is more information available - ideally before we have to look for it, if we can understand that what affects the person can affect their child, their partner, their parent - we might find that this openness leads to more collective understanding and more collective support. (It might even mean we pay slightly more attention to our real life relationships.)
This week's Chrissy B Show is not just on the signs and symptoms of menopause, but addresses how those symptoms - as extreme as they can be - can have an effect on relationships. Chrissy's MHD Challenge goes into schools and universities to support children and young people to discuss their worries; and in a couple of weeks the show will be looking at the importance of speaking up about our mental health issues - meanwhile I examine the problems with "smiling depression" with journalist Victoria Hall in this article in Victoria Health.
Learn how we can help - before the point of crisis
I know that so often when we are struggling with deciding to tell someone it might also be because we are not sure of the response...and perhaps as friends and family we may not ask because we do not know how to respond. Schools are doing a good job in training their staff and reaching out to parents, but there is information out there which we could look at on websites such as Mind, or Dementia Friends and of course there is the NHS website- to name but three!
The more we are encouraged to take a moment to do that little bit of extra research, to speak to others about their experiences and tips, to think about what we might need to do at some point and prepare for it, perhaps the better off we will be. This does not mean we should become paranoid about wellness, or that we have to intervene all the time - but rather than the usual caveat "If you are affected by any of the issues..." I'd simply add "...or would like to learn more." Preparedness doesn't mean you have to use it, but if you want or need to - you can. Health concerns may affect us collectively, but collectively we may be better able to manage any problems.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt