There’s Nothing “Funny” About Postpartum Mental Illness, So Please Stop Marketing Tully As A Comedy

Warning: Spoilers ahead

I’m sorry, but I need to call bullshit on this one. Tully is not, in any way whatsoever, a comedy. It’s a very serious, sad, and frightening movie about postpartum depression and psychosis. There is nothing “comedic” about that, and to market it as so is doing a disgusting disservice to the PPD awareness movement, and women in general. This movie fails in so many ways to send any positive messages, and it honestly worries me that people are failing to acknowledge that.

As soon as I saw the first trailer for the movie Tully, I knew it was something I had to see. The ads and coming attractions marketed the movie as a comedy drama about Marlo, an exhausted mom of three with a new baby, struggling with the realities of everyday parenthood. In comes Tully, a quirky night nanny who offers Marlo some much needed relief and encourages and allows Marlo to focus on herself. We get the impression that it’s more of a feel good movie for moms, emphasizing the importance of self care and how it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. That WOULD have been a movie with a great message. A movie to empower moms to let go of the overwhelming amount of pressure and mom guilt that has become a staple of modern parenthood. A movie that emphasizes the importance of taking care of ourselves first in order to better take care of those around us. A movie that shows the importance of the bonds between women. A movie to remind moms everywhere that we matter too. THIS is the movie I thought I was going to see. I thought I’d be sitting in a theater with my two close friends drinking wine, indulging in too many carbs, enjoying a movie we could relate to and leave with a few laughs and a bit of relief. But this is NOT what we walked away with at all.

In reality, Tully is a movie about postpartum psychosis. The movie starts out strong. It has powerfully relatable scenes about life with children with special needs, marital issues, and the ugly sides of childbirth that we don’t often see on tv or in movies (hello mesh panties!).  Any mom can watch the first half of the movie and relate to it in some way. It proceeds to lead you to believe that Marlo, after several exhausting and frustrating weeks with a newborn and two older kids to care for, finally acknowledges that she needs help and accepts her brother’s gift of a night nanny. Enter Tully the night nanny. We think that Marlo is getting much needed help from Tully, that she is finally getting some rest and relief and is better able to flourish as a wife and mother. We see her bloom and regain a sense of herself through her relationship with Tully.  At the end of the movie, Marlo and Tully go out and get drunk together, and Marlo falls asleep at the wheel causing a car accident. We find out then that Tully is not actually a real person. She is a hallucination, a manifestation of Marlo’s 26 year old self that she has struggled to let go of. This twist could have given the filmmakers yet another opportunity to send a great message and raise awareness of the seriousness of postpartum depression and psychosis. But they fail miserably.

At several points throughout the movie, they subtly hint at Marlo having a history of postpartum depression. They refer to the “tough time” she had after her second pregnancy, and her family’s hope that hiring a night nanny will keep her from experiencing another “tough time”. That’s it. There’s no mention of the word depression at all. There’s no talk about specifically what was “tough” about that time for her, how long it took her to overcome it, or what she did to manage it. This was a bit of an upsetting red flag to me from the start of the film. But the biggest disappointment comes with the big reveal at the end, when we learn that Tully has not been real.  We see the Dr at the hospital following Marlo’s accident explain to her husband Drew that Marlo seems to be suffering from “extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation” which is what led to her to this erratic behavior and subsequent car accident. Once again, they fail to use the terms depression or psychosis. They simple just state that she’s tired. The dr makes a few passing remarks that magically cause Drew to realize that he hasn’t been as helpful as he should have been and he apologizes to Marlo and that’s about it. They then show a few finishing scenes with Drew helping Marlo prepare some meals and help out around the house and the family functioning together as a normal, happy, family unit. La de da, that’s the end of it.

As a three time survivor of postpartum depression, I was floored by how they glossed over the most important issues of the movie. They should have taken the opportunity to open viewers eyes to the seriousness of postpartum depression and psychosis, and how important it is to seek professional help. By describing her condition as “exhaustion and sleep deprivation”, they perpetuate the myth that PPD can be cured by some rest and help around the house. Bullshit. EVERY new parent suffers from exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and many women will experience some mild symptoms of “baby blues” such as anxiety and mood swings. But not every woman will experience PPD, let alone postpartum psychosis. The movie fails to distinguish what the difference is between normal baby blues (which is a temporary state that usually resolves within a few weeks after birth) and the serious medical condition that is PPD. While an estimated 80% of women will suffer from the baby blues following the birth of a child, 10-20% of mothers will go on to develop the medical condition of Postpartum depression. Marlo not only suffers from PPD, but from postpartum psychosis, a very very serious condition that left untreated can lead to suicide and infanticide. According to postpartum.net, postpartum psychosis is a rare illness, compared to the rates of postpartum depression or anxiety. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries, or approximately .1 -.2% of births. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first 2 weeks postpartum.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

Of the women who develop postpartum psychosis, research has suggested that there is approximately a 5% suicide rate and a 4% infanticide rate associated with the illness. These are very frightening statistics. This in not to say that all women with postpartum psychosis will harm themselves or others. Delusions take many forms, and not all of them are destructive. Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. However, there is always the risk of danger because psychosis includes delusional thinking and irrational judgment, and this is why women with this illness must be quickly assessed, treated, and carefully monitored by a trained healthcare perinatal mental health professional. None of this is discussed in the movie. Marlo experiences all of the symptoms listed above, but instead of showing her receiving medical and therapeutic treatment to recover from her illness, they lead us to believe she is healed through her husband giving her some additional support. This is such a dangerous message to send. Women need to know the warning signs of postpartum illnesses and how serious these conditions can be. They need to know that it’s okay, that it’s not in their control and that it does not make them bad mothers. So many women fail to seek help for the fear of being judged or losing custody of their children. This stigma needs to stop. They need to know that help does exist, and that these conditions are treatable. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it often isn’t as simple as just getting a few more hours of sleep or help around the house (as helpful as those things can be). For some women, PPD can eventually resolve on it’s own with time. But for many others, such as myself, it’s an ongoing struggle that requires both medication and therapy. My youngest baby is 19 months old now. He sleeps all night and is past the fussy teething phases and is becoming very independent. I have a husband who helps out as much as he can, as well as a babysitter I can call on so I can get time for myself on a regular basis. I get wonderful support from my family and close friends. Yet I’m still taking two different medications daily as well as seeing a therapist on a regular basis to battle and cope with my PPD. It doesn’t just end with rest and help. It’s a medical condition and needs to be acknowledged and treated as such.

Tully does a great disservice to PPD awareness. There is nothing funny about it. Do not label it as such. It’s just plain irresponsible. And calling it a comedy? Just no. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of PPD include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
  • Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
  • Worrying or feeling overly anxious
  • Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Experiencing anger or rage
  • Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Trouble bonding with her baby
  • Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
  • Thoughts of harming herself or her baby

If you’ve had a baby within the past 12 months and are experiencing ANY of the symptoms listed above, please know that you are not alone and that help does exist. Please visit your doctor, join a support group, or turn to one of the resources listed below for immediate help:

Postpartum Support International 1-800-944-4773. Visit postpartum.net for more information

Contact 1800-ppd-moms or info@hopeline.com. Visit 1800ppdmom.org for more information

 

 

 

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