Jessica Rowe is a news presenter, author, columnist and mother of two girls, Allegra and Giselle. She has been working in the media industry for over 20 years and is passionate about removing the stigma around mental health conditions. It is a very personal campaign – having grown up with a mother who has bipolar disorder, she understands the chaos and heartache that a mental health condition can cause to a family.
When Jessica was only 10, her mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “As a little girl, that was so frightening… I would feel so powerless. I would lie in bed and I would hear mum crying night after night”. Jessica’s mother was often hospitalised, usually for three or four months at a time, sometimes each and every year.
When Jessica speaks about growing up, she explains what it is like to be the child of a parent who is unwell. “I went through a range of emotions. There were times when I would be angry and resentful because I would be thinking, come on mum, you are the one who is supposed to be looking after me!”
But it wasn't until she had postnatal depression after the birth of her eldest daughter, Allegra, that she understood the level of stigma and shame that you can feel if you have a mental health condition. She says, "Although I knew where to get help, had family support and the financial means to pay for specialists I still felt ashamed. I thought, what right do I have to be depressed? I have everything I could wish for... a beautiful baby, a wonderful husband. I felt like such a failure".
Jessica realised she had to ask for help. Something that was very difficult to do, as she has always seen herself as 'strong and capable'. "However I realised that real strength came from admitting I needed help". She says with the love and support of her family, plus the wisdom of her doctor she came to realise that she wasn't a failure. "I just had an illness. And I needed treatment to get better. It can be hard enough being a mum – even more so if you have PND".
Because Jessica wanted to help others by sharing her experiences, she became a beyondblue Ambassador in 2002. Firstly, she spoke about her mother’s bipolar disorder and after becoming a mother, she also talked about her own experience of postnatal depression. This led to her becoming a Patron for the beyondblue Perinatal Mental Health Program.
“Sometimes you don’t have a choice about what happens to you, necessarily, but what you do have control over is how you deal with it."