Amy Filippaios, founder of online hair extension wholesaler, SimplyHair, discusses how important it is to remove the stigma around this mental health illness to prevent it being an obstacle to leadership and entrepreneurship.
More than 1 in 10 women experience postnatal depression within a year of giving birth and the condition also affects fathers and close family members. For many founders and business leaders, it can be a real battle, yet postnatal depression and entrepreneurship aren’t words usually heard together and the condition is rarely discussed at board-level.
Starting a family can still feel like the end of a woman’s career. The joy of impending parenthood is often combined with sadness, as you realise you can no longer dedicate the same level of passion and time to your career. For female founders, these emotions and hormonal fluctuations also mix with fear for the future of the business they have put so much energy into building. Used to running the show, it can be hard to hand the reins over to someone else and lose control of your domestic life, making this period even more difficult and negatively affecting their mental health.
This is where I found myself in 2017, following the birth of my first child. I was three years into running, SimplyHair, and things were going well. We had grown a lot and had some exciting projects in the pipeline, but I was in my late twenties, and I knew that I didn’t want to wait too long to start a family.
Having struggled with anxiety disorders and mental health issues in my teens and young adulthood, I knew that I would need to take a significant amount of time off to adapt to becoming a new mum. We had waited to start a family until the business was at a stage that I could temporarily step away. We were lucky to have a smooth pregnancy and labour but I knew that pushing myself to try to remain active in the business and raise a new-born would be disastrous for my mental health. Therefore, we decided that my husband would oversee the day-to-day running of the company and we would hire someone to take over my role during the first few months.
To ensure the business would stay afloat in my absence, I put many systems, and strategies in place before. I worked up to the day before my daughter’s birth, before handing the business over to my replacement. Naively thought I’d be able to slot straight back into work very quickly.
New mothers often feel like they’re failing, which can be really disconcerting for any woman used to being independent. I’d cry incessantly because I couldn’t settle her into a routine, I couldn’t breastfeed her or sometimes just felt completely numb. In hindsight there were many signs that I was suffering from postnatal depression, I became obsessed with her nap schedule and worried she wasn’t sleeping enough.
One of the biggest shocks was the lack of interaction with other adults. Going from running my own business and enjoying a rewarding career, I wasn’t prepared to feel lonely and isolated spending all day at home.
I think many people can relate to mourning the loss of grown up conversation. This loss of identity affects so many people who make the move from full-time job to full-time parent.
My husband spotted the signs of depression early, however I brushed it off as baby blues and refused to seek medical advice. Like many first-time mums, I was terrified of being seen as an unfit mother. Instead, I shifted my expectations and rather than take my daughter into the office within a few months, I extended my maternity leave. Little did I know that this would be indefinite as when my daughter was five months old, I found out I was pregnant again and soon became a mother to two under two.
The influx of pregnancy hormones certainly accelerated my postnatal depression and after my son was born, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of raising two small children and running a business. Fortunately, the steps we had put in place before I left meant the business was going well and my replacement was running things smoothly, however, in the depths of depression, this made me feel worse and no longer needed.
I hadn’t realised how much my self-worth was measured by my success at work and without it, I had lost myself.
Seeing how down I had become, my husband suggested I started working again to reignite those passions. I also went to the doctor who suggested I tried a course of Sertraline, which might improve my mood. My husband and I also worked out how we could both run our businesses and share childcare so I could work two days a week. The difference was night and day. Despite still suffering from depression and sleep deprivation, work gave me purpose and validity and I started to feel like myself again.
Returning to work after a long period feels incredibly daunting and it is a transition often overlooked. Businesses change in the course of a year and even though I had started and grown SimplyHair, I felt like a stranger in my own business. It’s a difficult point in a woman’s career and unfamiliarity can really knock confidence or incite imposter syndrome, which may hold back progress. In some cases, fear of failure pushes women to sabotage their own career prospects or even give up work altogether.
Yet our careers are a huge part of who we are and this is so often forgotten in business. Lockdown has made this even more apparent to me. We focus on what we can do to feel valued at work and at home, prioritising everyone else and risking burnout. The conversations around mental health in the workplace have come a long way but there are still areas that feel uncomfortable or embarrassing to discuss such as counselling and medication.
There are still many misconceptions around postnatal depression, yet it could be affecting 10% of the workforce, potentially stunting productivity and entrepreneurial ventures. Support is particularly critical for parents who have had maternity or paternity leave this year and are going back to work in very different scenarios. Openly discussing coping strategies and therapies is an important part of normalising the condition as is encouraging high profile sufferers to discuss their own postpartum experiences. For business founders, who are used to managing everything independently, admitting they are not coping can be the biggest hurdle. However, it can also help other people who are suffering feel confident that they can still be successful in the midst of this disease.
Two years on, I still take antidepressants, I’m not quite ready to come off it yet, but I feel like the world looks bright again, and that I can be a good mum and a good business woman.
Specialist hair extension and salon supplies online wholesaler, SimplyHair was founded in 2013 by Amy Filippaios. Created to serve ambitious independent hairstylists and salon business owners, SimplyHair offers high quality, affordable products, industry tips and technical tutorials alongside commercial advice to empower stylists to build their businesses.
SimplyHair’s products have been seen on women and men of all professions and ages and have been featured on Dancing on Ice. Fantastic products and outstanding customer service with a team of digital and styling professionals at the helm, SimplyHair is growing exponentially and expanded its warehouse and office space in Canterbury, Kent earlier this year. SimplyHair.co.uk