Husband of woman who suffered from postpartum depression calls for more support

Vincent Fung's wife took her own life after struggling with depression following the birth of her first child.

‘It’s okay to not be okay’, says husband of woman who took her own life after battling depression

After Muriel Lauvige-Fung gave birth to her daughter Théa in 2014, she began to suffer from postpartum depression. (Vincent Fung)

Vincent Fung wants people to know what a "wonderfully smart, talented, passionate and loving person" his late wife was, before she began to suffer from postpartum depression.

Muriel Lauvige-Fung had worked with the United Nations in Europe and Asia to fight gender inequality, and had written and illustrated her own French-language comic book for adult learners.

But after she gave birth to her daughter Théa in 2014 in Switzerland, she became sleep-deprived, had trouble breastfeeding, and checked herself into hospital to deal with the depression she began experiencing.

"She was just very stressed, and very anxious about if she was doing things correctly," Fung told B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko.

"She went from, 'Okay, I think I know what I'm doing,' to, 'I question what I'm doing,' to 'Am I doing things correctly?' to 'Am I doing things that might hurt my daughter?' to almost like 'What if I unconsciously hurt my daughter?'"

She gradually closed herself off from the psychologists, friends and family who she had been trying to get help from, and took her own life on July 1, 2015.

Pressure on new parents

With the help of family and friends, Fung wrote a loving tribute to Muriel that was published in a French magazine, as well as on his own blog.

Muriel and Vincent Fung met in Thailand, and found that they both had a passion for humanitarian work. They lived and worked together in countries in Asia, Europe and North America. (Vincent Fung)

He said he wants mothers, fathers and those in parents' support networks, to realize that there is often a lot of pressure from society when it comes to parenting.

"It's okay to not be okay," he said. "It's okay that you're having a difficult time, it's okay that you're in the hospital, it's okay that you're tired and you're anxious."

Fung said he also would like to see the medical system realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution to helping someone suffering from postpartum depression, and wants people to understand that it's not just the mother that needs help and support.

"There's a lot of emphasis on moms going through this, but I think there should be a bit more emphasis as well on the support system" of the father and parents, he said.

After Muriel Lauvige-Fung gave birth to her daughter Théa in 2014, she began to suffer from postpartum depression. (Vincent Fung)

Some support available

Kerry O'Donahue, group facilitator and support counsellor with the Pacific Post Partum Support Society, said postpartum depression isn't always talked about, partly because "there is a lot of stigma around mental health issues" and mothers may feel isolated.

"There's the expectations on a new mum, from herself and societally are really high often … sometimes they're afraid to speak to anyone about it," said O'Donahue, whose society offers telephone support and support groups for women suffering from depression after giving birth or adopting a child.

In B.C. women who have given birth are given a screening at six weeks, where they answer questions to determine if they are experiencing postpartum depression, O'Donahue said. 

However she said that women could be feeling fine at that point, but then develop symptoms afterwards — which is why she said her society supports women even up until their child is three years old.

"Sometimes we get a lot of women phoning when they're maybe nine, 10 months postpartum, and they're ready to go back to work and they're thinking, 'How am I going to go back to work? I don't feel good, I don't feel like myself.'"

O'Donahue said that she encourages people to speak to their family doctor if they're starting to struggle with depression or anxiety after giving birth, as well as contact her organization.

"Give us a call. You don't have to have a diagnosis of postpartum depression or anxiety to get support … and you don't need a referral from your doctor."

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: More understanding and support is needed for postpartum depression, advocates say