Stop risking people’s lives for clicks, please – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Stop risking people’s lives for clicks, please

Stop risking people’s lives for clicks, please

You might already know from Twitter that about 35 years ago, my dad’s dad took his own life. I don’t know if dad is thinking about this more than usual, but we’ve talked about it twice in the past two days. 35 years ago, men were mostly not meant to be depressed. I mean, men are still mostly “not meant” to be depressed. That’s a big part of the reason men die by suicide at a rate of more than three times that of women. The stigma surrounding men’s mental health is massive, ill-informed and also deadly.

Anecdotally, it seems to be improving, at least in people I know. I talk to the men I know about how they’re feeling. I’m not sure if this is because I talk so much about how I am feeling, but they sometimes come to me and ask for my support and even advice.

(My advice is usually: “Talk to someone who is a brain expert, and I will come with you and we can get eat ice-cream until we feel better!” But you know, I’m not a psychologist.)

So I was talking to my dad. We were talking about children who exhibit suicidal tendencies, and whether these kids have a way to voice this inclination (for all kinds of reasons). My dad said, “I’ve had first-hand experience of what happens to people who can’t speak up.” He didn’t know his dad was sick until after the police called the first time. They told him there was a 95% chance it would happen again. It did. There were no pamphlets, no helplines, no numbers for support groups.

Between 2002 and 2012, suicide rates decreased by 17%. That ten year period also saw exponential growth in internet usage, and the advent of smart phones. I’m a uni student, so I know I can’t draw causal conclusions from these numbers, but what we have are people who are more able than ever to 1. seek information, 2. meet like-minded people with low barriers, and 3. speak freely and anonymously. More people than ever, in the history of the world, have access to tools with which to publish their experiences, fears, treatments, ideas and successes.

After I had Georgia, in 2003, I had severe PND that bordered on post-natal psychosis. Every day I thought about how easy it would be to die, about how tired I was, how angry, how anxious, how stressed. I hated my husband. I knew in my brain that I loved my child, but I didn’t feel it in my bones. I was so depressed that I sometimes stayed inside for a whole week, in my tiny flat, eating carrots from a bag and crying. Eventually I went to see my Maternal and Child Health Nurse, and she sat me in a chair and said, “You look like your heart hurts.” and I still cry when I repeat that to people, because it did, and because it still does when I think of the months that I missed.

But she had helped me to start a conversation. I found people on the internet who were having a similar experience to mine. I talked to them about things I had never imagined I would articulate — about harming my child, about feeling like a danger to myself. And I sought treatment from my doctor, and people took me seriously and I got better. When Lily was born in 2005, I didn’t experience PND at all.

Something I do a lot on my blog is talk about brains. Mine is faulty, other people’s are faulty, maybe yours is faulty. But there’s no judgement here. People leave comments and send me emails about the craziest shit that happens in their brain. I get wonderful emails from people who don’t feel ready to share their own mental illness stories, but feel like they can talk about them with me. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that that’s the value in speaking up. When I wrote about how I thought Homer Simpson was my dad, I learned all kinds of things about people. We spoke freely. And we laughed! We laughed about being momentarily or not-momentarily insane, because we are people who want other people to know that depression and anxiety (and other mental illnesses) are real, but they are not the only thing. So we are mates and comrades and we’ve come along way since my grandpa killed himself 35 years ago.

I’m telling you all of this because community is vital to mental wellness. Reduction in stigma only happens when people feel confident that they can speak truthfully about what’s happening to them. Sometimes it takes a brave person to come out first, but once that person does, and another person does, and another person does, we begin to have a conversation. We start to educate people through real life, to help them understand that depression is not a weakness, that anxiety is not always rational, that being a person with a mental illness is not to the exclusion of all other things. And when we do that, the people who can find us and see us and know us are the people who haven’t felt that they can speak up, thank you internet. People at bus stops, people in dark rooms, people at work, people on holiday. People who are experiencing some kind of lapse in their brain function, whether permanent or temporary, who aren’t alone anymore, and who can see a way forward.

SANE Australia has something to say about stigma:

Stigma in the media is especially harmful because the media plays an important role in shaping and reinforcing community attitudes.

These are actual words Mark Latham used in the media today:

How will the children feel when they grow up and learn that they pushed their mother onto anti-depressants?

Women I speak to in western Sydney, who have no neuroses or ideological agenda to push, regard child-rearing as a joy.

(If you want to read them for yourself, copy and paste:

The first thing my children will probably think, because I am raising them to be aware and empathetic and kind, is, “Gosh I’m glad those anti-depressants kept mum alive for a while!”

My children didn’t “push me onto anti-depressants”. I sought a course of treatment that was suitable to my requirement at that time, and I persevered with it until it was no longer required. My children are older now, but I have chronic depression, so I treat that in an appropriate way also. My depression pushed me onto anti-depressants. My children made me tired and ate all my money and caused me to be more isolated than I might otherwise have been, but they also gave me a reason to look for ways to feel well again. Which isn’t to say that this is the same experience everyone has, but it was my experience. I’m telling you this because if you have PND symptoms, I want you to know that they might be different from mine, and that you are still awesome.

I, personally, think Mark Latham says quite a few things that are misinformed, so his comments don’t offend me. I didn’t vote for him, and I think that was a pretty good judgement call. But I’m confident in my knowledge of my mental illnesses. I’m comfortable with the treatments I undertake. I’m not personally going to feel embarrassed or alienated because some idiot suggests that anti-depressants are a gap-filler for women who have neuroses and ideological agenda to push (presumably onto their other similarly afflicted child-hating frenemies). I don’t care. I will go on being depressed but okay.

But the reintroduction of stigma surrounding PND — during PND Awareness Week, you fucking clown — is a dangerous activity. Imagine: a woman with a month-old baby, who is sitting on her couch and feeling nothing. Maybe she realises she needs help. Maybe she’s even thinking about getting some. Then she reads something from someone in the national media that tells her she’s got it all wrong. That if she were an even half-decent person, she would find child-rearing a joy. That the author of that piece is a strong and real parent because he doesn’t need any help. That the only kind of parent you can be is an able, capable, joyous one.

Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death.

In contributing to stigma surrounding mental illness, you’re endangering these women, the ones who are on the cusp, who haven’t started a conversation yet. You’re endangering their families.

… and bond with the most important people in their lives, their children.

If you truly believe this, you crazy-eyed moron, you’ll understand a mother’s right to experience their child from beyond the dark fog of PND.


If you need someone to talk to:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyondblue 1300 224 636

  • bigwords

    November 20, 2014 at 7:13 pm Reply

    Anna your words are amazing and will help people x

  • kim

    November 20, 2014 at 7:31 pm Reply

    Awesome post Anna, it never ceases to amaze me what can come out of some people’s mouths. Neuroses, ideological agenda? I’m completely speechless.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      November 20, 2014 at 7:33 pm Reply

      Thanks Kim! Clearly the only reason anyone would suggest support for mental health issues is because they are scientologists and/or selling Amway SSRIs.

  • Dorothy

    November 20, 2014 at 7:40 pm Reply

    A moron indeed. If not for anti-depressants I’d be dead. If not for my children, I’d be dead. And no, child-rearing is not a joy for me, no matter which way I look at it.

  • Margaret Jolly

    November 20, 2014 at 8:26 pm Reply

    Briliant. Just brilliant. That is all. Anti depressants and a dear friend in whom I could confide saved me.

  • Helen K

    November 20, 2014 at 9:09 pm Reply

    I really agree with you that Mark Latham’s column was worse than stupid. Rather than pushing me to use anti-depressants, I know that the love I have for my children has been a major reason to keep trying to find the right medication that works, and as they grow older, they are becoming aware and are far happier that I do this than remained in denial that it will all be good if I could just focus on the happiness of raising children – with all the side effects emotionally, and physically, and who knows what else, that this denial approach creates. Without medical – and non medical – help, I am not able to enjoy being with my kids – or enjoy much at all, really – and I hope eventually I will be on minimal medical assistance – but who knows? I really hope that the good work to undo the stigma of mental illness isn’t undermined by articles such as Mark Latham’s.

    However – when I read Lisa Pryor’s column on the weekend, I cringed. Why did she have to say she gets through an excessively busy life due to caffeine and antidepressants? It sounded flippant – and also like the wrong use for these (particularly as she is training to become a doctor). I would understand if it was ‘healthy eating’, or yoga, or friendships – but medical intervention isn’t something you dabble in, or use to paper over issues (and that’s how it came across – at least to me). I am guessing there is more to it – and if she didn’t want to reveal that (which is her choice), I don’t think she should have raised the issue. I didn’t think either column helped the cause of understanding the valid need for medical assistance.

  • edenland

    November 20, 2014 at 9:22 pm Reply

    Anna you have no idea how much I think of you. In the ridiculous world of twitter, I always pause at your tweets because they’re always real, you don’t hide stuff, you’re funny, and I just generally dig you as a person.

    Sometimes I’ll be out experiencing anxiety (severe anxiety, lately) … and I think about you and how you have anxiety and most like a lot of other people do too and I don’t feel so alone.

    Thank you for that. And thank you for this post. It’s so fucking important.


  • Kim-Marie from Kimba Likes

    November 20, 2014 at 9:24 pm Reply

    I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent woman, albeit one who speed reads. Lisa Pryor’s column elicited a deep intake of breath from me and I opened my mouth to say “what the?”

    Then I read it again. And understood what she was saying. I said to the Welshman, my husband, that I cannot wait to read all the excellent blog posts that will come from this brave column.

    I certainly did not expect to be reading such utter asinine crap as Mark Latham cared to share – during PND Awareness Week no less.

    I was literally shaking in anger at his smug, ill conceived and just plain wrong words. Wrong Street, Wrongtown, Wrongville,

    Then I found this and shared it far and wide. You have such a gift, Anna. I really really needed to read this.

    I’m very lucky that I didn’t suffer from PND, but I do have depression from PMDD (there was some shite written when that was classified as a mental health issue, dear gods). Without my daily medication to rebalance the part of my brain which doesn’t respond the way it is supposed to, I am not me. And I kinda like me. I want to BE me. My son and husband really really want me to be me. I tried just getting over myself. I tried really hard. And it didn’t work.

    Oh, I am fuming again. Love your work, Anna. Love your words.

  • Kellie Anderson (@StylishKellie)

    November 20, 2014 at 9:42 pm Reply

    Mark Latham is an idiot. My children didn’t cause my depression. I have had it since I was a teen, probably before that. My children had forced me to live everyday and not hide away from everything and everyone. They are the reason I get up everyday and try to live a “normal” life.

  • Kate Spyker

    November 20, 2014 at 9:56 pm Reply

    Congrats to you my very clever cousin! And big hugs xxxx

  • SawHole

    November 20, 2014 at 10:01 pm Reply

    You gave me words when I had no. Respect, Anna. xx

  • Paul Wallbank

    November 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm Reply

    What’s odd with Latham’s piece is how he claims women in Western Sydney don’t have problems; my guess is he hasn’t really asked. It’s a strange piece that shows how Australian editorial standards have gone to the dogs.

  • Trish

    November 20, 2014 at 10:33 pm Reply

    i didn’t know there was such a thing as post-natal psychosis until that day I had my baby in one arm and a carving knife in the other, ready to kill the man I thought was waiting for me behind the laundry door. Even then, I didn’t know there was a name for it. I am a university-educated, privileged white woman from Canberra’s western suburbs and five years AFTER that dark episode I found out that other women had gone through similar episodes. I had my babies when the Internet was just getting started – we didn’t yet have women like Kate confessing to finding the whole thing fucking bewildering. I tell the carving knife story to all the new mums in my life – not to freak them out, but to let them know that they’re not alone, in case it should happen to them. I’m really happy for Mark Latham that he’s got the Perfect Storm of Ministerial Pension, Supportive Partner and Part-Time Paid Writing Gig. But his experience – and his opinion – has FUCK ALL to do with mine.

    • Lesley Moseley

      November 21, 2014 at 1:24 pm Reply

      What she said…!!

  • Helen K

    November 20, 2014 at 10:46 pm Reply

    I’ve just read other people’s responses on your site and others – seems like (quite rightly) Mark Latham’s column has sparked a number of responses, all justifiably appalled at what he wrote.

    It also seems like no one else found Lisa Pryor’s column odd – only me – so I’m quite willing to accept that I might be reading something into it which wasn’t there (but it still didn’t sit comfortably with me – maybe it’s the inference that ‘antidepressants help you achieve MORE’ . No (or maybe, but unlikely) – rather, they actually enable me to function at any meaningful level. Full stop.) Anyway … doesn’t justify the response from Mark Latham in any way).

    Finally – somehow accidentally linked to someone else’s blog about eBooks – if anyone clicks on it, I hope they find it interesting, because I have no idea what it is.

  • Tony Partridge

    November 21, 2014 at 10:24 am Reply

    Mark Latham’s attitude and level of understanding is typical for men of his ideological perspective. Misogyny has established itself ontologically in many of his class and gender. I am an early childhood art therapist and can assure Mr. Latham that blaming the adult victim also blames the child. PND is a terrible experience that can affect any women from any class or background. I have had to provide support for small children struggling to understand and cope with the pain of their mothers anguish, so to imply that a mother’s suffering is a product of a militant feminism displays a level of ignorance and misogyny that should give any women sharing his arrogant mental domain, pause for thought regarding their future with him.

  • Rozzie Dunne

    November 21, 2014 at 1:02 pm Reply

    Here’s mine. I’m not going to plaster it all over the internet but it was just the catharsis of finally writing it down that felt good. Three years and a strange marriage on, I’m back on track.

  • Kyle Cogan

    December 3, 2014 at 9:30 pm Reply

    Just stumbled across this blog and reading it, it’s a major eye opener to those who are ignorant of depression and mental illness in general. People can be so patronizing whether it’s to do with mental illness depression or whether it’s even being there for somebody who’s going through it. I’m not going to ly to you but even i can sometimes be ignorant of mental illness or depression although i felt depressed for quite a while but that boiled down to issues during school and my ill health not to mention being in a hospital environment 3 days a week where it’s inappropriate for a child to be. This has nothing to do with depression but i think it has some poiniency to what i’m about to say. Throughout my life i’ve been in and out of hospitals because of issues to do with my kidneys. I was born with reinal displasure which meant that as i grew my kidneys didn’t grow with me. After my first transplant i had nothing but health problems. In and out of hospital periodically but then the last straw came when i had to lose that kidney and go onto dialysis. I hated the idea of going onto dialysis as i feared the pain of needles as is human i guess. I commenced the treatment at the Royal Childrens hospital in Melbourne while i waited for a spot at my local hospital. Once at my local hospital for dialysis i was in with adults who were much older than i was and often much sicker than I There were patients who passed away and this took a heavy tol on me because of having to deal with some of these things frequently. Then the day before my 16th birthday one of our neighbours who had lived nextdoor for almost 14 years passed away from cancer and he was in an Albury hospital at the time but 5 days after the funeral i just wasn’t myself and I’ve had a habbit of talking to myself a bit so self talk in other words and i’d expressed that i’d thought of suicide and i thought i was speaking under my breath but was overheard by a teacher who spoke to his wife and she called me in for a chat and when she asked me about saying i wanted to kill myself i cringed as if i’d been slapped or mor appropriately as if i’d been punched in the stomach at the time i was one who held his emotions inside as i didn’t want to lose the focus i needed to concentrate on my school work I still cringe thinking back to that time. My mother was of the thought that depression was all in the mind and that it didn’t exist. How wrong she was. This was as one of our newer neighbours suffered from bipola disorder and understood depression. And i’m sorry if the statement i just wrote here that my mother thought that depression was all in the mind and that it didn’t exist does infuriate you but that was 10 years ago that mum thought this. This clinical depression at the time i atribute to my ill health and frustrations of being on kidney dialysis. believe me there were days i wanted to give up the treatment but without it i couldn’t continue to live so toughed it out for another few more years. But as i say now everybody deals with depression differently

  • Kyle Cogan

    December 4, 2014 at 2:06 pm Reply

    I just felt i’d comment on this Anna because there are too many people who don’t give depression and mental illness a second thought. Although there is stigma and ignorance as far as a lot of things go so not just depression and ignorance but disability too. Firstly, advanced appologies for the long and drawn out comment i posted on your blog last night it could pass as almost a mini essay or a mini story of my life and if you did see the comment that there weren’t too many things that may have been considered slightly patronizing or upsetting as i try to be aware of this.

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