Recently, I read a blog post that Susan from Learned Happiness wrote, titled "So you think I shouldn't have had children". Susan's blog post talked about the recent discussions about PPMD that have occurred across the internet as the result of various talk-shows deciding to focus on moms who take anti-depressants. I tried to pick a quote from the blog post that stood out the most, but it all stood out; it was wonderfully written. Susan expresses beautifully the problems with the mentality that women who need medication shouldn't have children. Since I don't want to post the entire blog post here (I'd rather direct the traffic directly to her blog), I'll just leave the link up and tell you to go over there RIGHT NOW and read Susan's post.
Anyways, I had read Susan's blog post and it really resonated with me, so I posted the link on my Facebook profile. Several people shared the link on their own pages, which made me squeal with delight (I always love it when PPMD blogs get more visibility). I hoped that some good discussions would perhaps get started. That is, after all, part of the point in posting about PPMD, to get people talking and combat the stigma. I got my wish, in part. I say "in part" because on one of these links, a discussion definitely got started, but I don't think I would exactly label it "good".
The ignorant comments made by someone who read the Facebook post got me irritated (I think if you look closely, you can still see a little hint of smoke coming out of my ears), and not for the first time in the last few weeks, I find myself thinking about trolls and how to avoid them.
It seems like the best and only way to really avoid getting trolled is to avoid reading the comments of... well, pretty much anything. For example: Huffington Post featured Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress, Fierce and Powerful, and Something Fierce in a post titled "It's time for everyone to get the facts about Postpartum Depression". I read the post and cheered. Then I made the mistake of reading the comments and went from "Woohoo!!!" to "Yahoos!!!".
This is a common occurrence. There's a media storm about PPMD (usually surrounding a tragedy, such as Cynthia Wachenheim's suicide, or a mother killing her children, such as with Andrea Yates and Otty Sanchez. Or maybe the discussion is the result of a celebrity speaking up about having/survived a Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder, such as Lashinda Demus). For whatever reason, when the media starts talking about PPMD, it brings out the trolls and the uneducated, ignorant masses who believe things like "PPD can be prayed away" or "You shouldn't take such medication". These people spout their rhetoric and spew their word-vomit and the result is the furthering of some nasty stigmas that are about as much fun as constipation and hemorrhoids.
So what is it about PPMD that brings out the trolls? Why do people feel free to say horrid things about mental illness? Why do they feel that it is acceptable to judge the fact that some of us really do need to take medication to control a condition that is trying to control us?
Maybe you're reading this and scoffing, thinking "Pssh. She's just being overly sensitive." or "That poor woman, doesn't she know that mental illnesses aren't REAL illnesses? Doesn't she know that antidepressants are over-prescribed and our society is over-medicated?". Let me tell you, that is simply NOT true. Yes, I am sensitive about mental health, mental illness, and especially maternal mental health. But you know what? I HAVE GOOD REASON TO BE! (yes, that is me yelling). I have lived through the pain of PPD, PPA, PPOCD, and Antenatal Depression. I've struggled through trying to ignore it, refusing to ask for help, and trying to "pray it away" or "think enough happy thoughts". I've struggled through the decision to start taking medication. I've struggled through the hospitalizations. I've fought my way through the emotional minefield of feeling like a failure because I needed that help. I've seen other women try to make their way through that same minefield. I know first-hand exactly how much harm it does to hear someone say "You should just be more thankful to God for your blessings". I know from personal experience how hurtful it is to read and hear people saying all the nasty things they say in these blog posts and news stories in the comments sections. So yeah, I'm a little sensitive, but I'm not overly so because I don't think there's any such thing as being overly sensitive when it comes to this topic that is still far too under-diagnosed and the center of too much unnecessary controversy as the result of stigmas, myths, ignorance, and a lack of awareness and education.
So what do we do when we see these trolls? I haven't figured that out yet. I think I stand with a lot of other PPMD survivors and bloggers in being conflicted on the matter. On one hand, reading the comments can be triggering and infuriating. Engaging the trolls can be the same and gives them exactly what they're looking for: a reaction. On the other hand, not speaking up allows others to get only one view and perhaps to have incorrect opinions strengthened. Speaking up is how we combat the stigmas and myths, it's how we correct the misinformation being spread. And sometimes, it's hard to tell whether someone is being a troll or if they are legitimate in their beliefs and are uneducated and in need of hearing the other side of the story.
All that to say that I'm not sure what the "right answer" is, or if there is one. I'm not even sure why people think that such a major life-or-death issue like PPMD is acceptable to troll. I would, however, like to say this to the trolls:
Please. For the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary, just stop. Stop trolling. Hopefully you don't realize how much damage you have the potential to do, but it's a lot. PPMD isn't some subject that gets talked about and after the heated discussion, nobody is worse off for it. PPMD is a topic that is real, and the hurtful things that trolls say can cause real and lasting damage for the vulnerable women who read the comments.
I asked on twitter what people thought about PPMD trolls and I wanted to share these responses:
@donotfaint: "I had a troll stuck to me once who "double-checked" my research & drs & told me I was exposing my son to a higher risk of SIDS if I didn't breastfeed him. She changed her email address to keep writing to me after I blocked her! ... That is how I learned that trolls are always actually talking about themselves."
@learndhappiness: "trolls are dangerous bc they say what we think on our worst days & struggling moms won't know they're full of shit".
Trolls, you may not realize it, but this topic is not fun and games. Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders are literally a life and death matter. When suicide is cited as the second leading cause of death in the postpartum period, trolling PPMD is not a joke. When you make the decision to troll an article, blog post, or other conversation about PPMD, you are playing with peoples lives. Women who are suffering from PPMD are already fighting those nasty thoughts and feelings that they're a failure and shouldn't have children. Hearing it from someone else serves only to reinforce those problematic notions, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
If you're not a troll (that is to say, you aren't causing a ruckus just to get a rise out of people), please consider the same thing and think about what you're going to say. If what you say could even remotely be taken as unsympathetic, blaming the mom, judgmental, attacking, stigma-inducing, etc., please, just don't say it. At the very least, talk to someone who has BTDT and is not currently struggling, and ask them to help you figure out how to best phrase your thoughts in a manner that will not be likely to cause emotional and mental distress to a vulnerable new mom.
Trolling can be harmless, in the right environment. A discussion involving PPMD is not the right environment. Don't be That Guy. Don't troll PPMD.