Take a look at these two pictures and what do you see?
Can you spot the difference?
The picture on the left was taken by a professional photographer, my hair was straightened and styled and I’d chosen an outfit especially for the occasion.
The one on the right is a more off-the-cuff moment – this time my hair looks unwashed and it’s been scraped back off my face with no great thought for how it looks.
Now tell me which picture shows a woman so deep in the cold and relentless grip of postnatal depression that she can see no end to the darkness, who feels nothing but despair?
Would it surprise you to know it is the first picture, the picture where I have taken time and care over my appearance?
So, how did it happen?
My mental health while I was expecting Grace was precarious to say the least.
I had a long history of mental ill health but I was only asked once, at the booking appointment, how I was coping.
I was struggling with dark thoughts and asked for help but it didn’t come, so I didn’t ask again.
Within hours of Grace being born by emergency caesarean section, I was already becoming seriously unwell.
When I eventually found the strength to ask a doctor for help a few weeks later, I was told, “You’ve just had a baby, what do you expect?”.
This response further compounded my distress.
My husband voiced his concerns to a different health professional and this time they didn’t even see me and simply left us to get on with it.
The worst part of all of this is, given my history of severe depression, the traumatic birth I had experienced and the complications that came after, I should have been monitored closely.
I was eventually diagnosed with postnatal depression, shortly after the picture above was taken, and was prescribed antidepressants before being sent on my way.
It was a good year before I really started to feel like me again.
Compare it to my experience with Ethan.
From my very first antenatal appointment, the midwives and doctors kept a close eye on me and that continued right through until Ethan was a couple of months old.
I never once had to ask for help, it was there throughout, and that was enough to keep me well.
It just shows the difference a proper support system can make in protecting people’s mental health.
And that brings me back to my original point, which is that mental health is a complicated thing.
You don’t have to experience any risk factors to suffer mental ill health.
There is also a misconception that someone with depression is always withdrawn, that they stop washing and eating, and they lose interest in life.
And while that can frequently be the case, it is also possible to be seriously unwell but still function as normal on the outside.
So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s make it our business to really look at those around us and don’t just assume a smile means that they’re okay.
Let’s make it so that anyone who is finding it hard to cope knows that they can talk about their feelings and that their voices will be heard.
And for those who are too unwell to get the help they need, let’s be their voice instead.
And remember, it’s okay not to be okay.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with your mental health, there are a range of support services available.
In addition to speaking to your doctor, midwife or health visitor, you can also access help by ringing the Samaritans helpline on 116 123 or the Lifeline helpline on 0808 808 8000.
Calls to Lifeline are free to people living in Northern Ireland who are calling from UK landlines and mobiles.
For more information about postnatal depression, log on to pre and postnatal support charity www.pandasfoundation.org.uk.
The charity also has a helpline available by ringing 0808 196 1776 or online support is also available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.