For some, motherhood is exactly what they expect it to be – sunshine and rainbows and lots of stress. For others, it can be a more harrowing time for their mental health. Louis Theroux’s latest documentary – Mothers On The Edge – explores the stories of a group of women who’s mental health deteriorated following the birth of their child.
When I first heard about the documentary, I thought the subject was fascinating. Postpartum Depression seems to be becoming a more talked about issue, with celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen speaking up about their own experiences with it. I hoped that a documentary would further the conversation and show sufferers that it’s okay to seek help and speak up.
Knowing that Louis Theroux isn’t one to walk away from a particularly difficult subject, I went into watching the documentary expecting a really hard-hitting series of tales from mothers that were closing their sense of reality. This isn’t what I found, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong, the tales were hard-hitting, but the documentary wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was informative, deep, and well-documented, but a part of me felt as if it was missing some kind of depth. I was expecting more than the viewer was given and, while that might be my own fault, I do think the documentary was somewhat playing in shallow waters.
Of course, Louis Theroux can only do so much – he can only get access to certain places and certain people. Generally, he did a good job of creating a documentary surrounding postpartum mental health. Where I was expecting distressing scenes of mothers not willing to be with their child, we were instead given scenes of Theroux playing with babies. Perhaps that highlights the fact that I’m not all that informed on postnatal mental health, and I was hoping to gain a further insight from this documentary.
What I thought was equally interesting is that Louis Theroux often breached the rules of being a journalist with this documentary. While he is an inspiration to me, as an aspiring journalist, he treaded the fine line of going too far. We’re caught to be impartial and open-minded, never imposing a narrative or an ideal on the interviewee in question to ensure that they feel comfortable at all times. However, Louis did often impose a narrative as, at times, he somewhat unwillingly invalidated how the mothers were feeling.
“I think you do love him.”
Though, as the documentary continues, Theroux finds himself questioning his willingness to believe a mother couldn’t love her own child. In turn, I believe that this does well to highlight the misconceptions that so many people have about motherhood and postpartum depression. Society constantly holds mothers to such a high standard that it’s somewhat setting them up to fail. They’re told that they have to be head over heels for their new child – that they have to be willing to give up life as they know it to protect them, but this often isn’t the case. Motherhood is not an easy road, and it’s not as clear cut as people like to make it out to be. If you think about the expectations that mothers are held to, it’s no surprise that so many suffer from bad mental health when trying to juggle their new life with a new child.
At one point, Louis Theroux even tells one mother – Catherine – that she didn’t ‘look unwell’. This, again, speaks volumes about how people have an idea that you have to look a certain way to be deemed as mentally ill. Theroux plays into the ideal that you have to ‘look sick’ to ‘be sick’, as if there was a way to ‘look sick’ in the first place. I hope that more people watching the documentary are able to pick up on this fact and come to realise that mental health difficulties can affect anybody, no matter what they look like or how they’re acting. Like Catherine replies, the person next to you in line in the grocery store could be suffering from so much more than you think they are just because they look ‘normal’. But there’s no way to look ‘normal’ – it’s entirely a social construct.
Generally, I think I would’ve liked it if the documentary explored these points further. I would’ve liked to see Theroux exploring the stigma surrounding postnatal mental health in more depth, and I would’ve liked to see him challenge some of the stereotypes around it.
Even though the documentary only very briefly touches on the subject, it does do a good job of representing a small portion of struggles that some mothers go through. It could be developed so much more and focuses around more immediate issues, but it was interesting to hear the stories from these women and to see how they were on the road to recovery.
Mothers On The Edge can now be streamed on BBC iPlayer.