I had the honor of talking to Priya Bhakta (Nima’s older sister) last week. As I reflect on our conversation, I sit in sorrow, complexity, and the extreme bravery by the way Priya and her family have let us into a small part of their world. You can read more in my series on postpartum depression.
Nima Bhakta grew up in a happy, tight Gujarati family in Southern California. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business, married her soulmate, and was a hotelier in Arizona.
“She called her nieces and nephews on FaceTime every night—just to see their faces. She never missed even one day.”
Nima was a perfectionist,” Priya recounts, “to the point of folding her dirty laundry.” She was particular, and loved her “Excel spreadsheets.”
After her son was born, Nima became obsessed with his care and had very high expectations of how she should care for her son. She carried an immense burden to be the perfect mother.
In some ways, Priya began to see sides of Nima she hardly could recognize from the person she knew growing up. Despite her family seeing the signs, she kept a lot of her struggle inside.
It’s easy to assume people who experience and may die of postpartum depression, don’t have a support system. This simply was not true for Nima. Nima was surrounded by a supportive family, husband, and friends, who stood by her side, noticed her symptoms, checked in on her constantly, and connected her to doctors, and therapists.
Growing up, their parents never pushed on them a societal expectation of how to become wives and mothers. But, Priya remembers how mental health (or anything difficult, for that matter) was rarely discussed in the home—shoved under the rug, and never dealt with.
“In an Indian home, nothing stops, you don’t get a chance to breathe.”
India has been facing a mental health crisis, with an estimated 56 million people suffering from depression and 38 million from anxiety disorders, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
Our community is terrified of mental illness. Here are some findings from a survey conducted by The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) across eight Indian cities across different socio-economic classes aged between 18 and 45:
- 47% could be categorized as being highly judgmental of people perceived as having a mental illness.
- 26% were afraid of the mentally ill
- 60% believed one of the main causes of mental illness was a lack of self-discipline and willpower
Our community has struggled with mental health for a long time. We carry stigma about what it means to have a mental illness. We put pressure on ourselves to keep it inside, then talk honestly about it and get the help we need.
We first have to acknowledge that mental illness is an illness, just like cancer.
Postpartum depression is an illness, just like cancer.
There is very little research on what happens to the brain when a woman experiences postpartum depression., which has a lot to do with how little we talk about the complexity of pregnancy and child-rearing. A recent groundbreaking study at Yale showed that some parents observed activity in “neural networks closely associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as in brain areas associated with social emotions such as empathy.”
The scientists at Yale are driven to this work to remove the stigma around speaking up about anxiety and depression after delivery. Their work elevates the complexities of postpartum illness—” that even the healthy maternal brain is wired for a certain level of anxiety”.
Postpartum depression can change the makeup of the women who are impacted. It can make a woman you know and love, into someone she doesn’t recognize anymore.
We live in a world where the lived experiences of women are often downplayed and disregarded. Many don’t want to see women stand up or advocate for their bodies—but also don’t acknowledge their body’s undeniable strength in building, hosting, and finally, birthing life.
We have to take women seriously.
We have to take women’s mental health seriously.
I scoured to find resources to help women navigate postpartum depression. There isn’t a loud enough conversation. They are far too few, especially for Indian women.
Priya wants you to speak loudly about postpartum depression. She wants you to have age-appropriate conversations with the people around so her sister’s life can mean much both alive, and now in heaven.
If you are a woman experiencing shame, anxiety, depression, or fear—you are not alone.
If you are a woman who loves a mother, it is your duty to protect your fellow woman.
If you are a man who is having a child, you must prioritize your partner’s care.
If you are a person, we must bring these conversations to the forefront so women don’t suffer in silence.
We all have a duty. We must protect our moms.
I leave you with a note from Nima, one her sister so graciously shared with me. We must take postpartum depression seriously.
Don’t blame anyone. Don’t blame my husband, my in-laws, or my family. They are not responsible for anything. I felt the way I felt because of myself only. If you want to criticize the kind of person I was for abandoning [my son], I am the only one to blame. Things happen that are out of people’s control. My mind needed to be at ease and this was the only way I felt it could. I wasn’t able to communicate with my friends, family, or anyone anymore and lost the “Nima” everyone knew through social media, texts, and in person. My appearance changed, my mind was troubled, I was wearing sweats every day, and never even went outside.