When RNZ Pacific journalist Sela Jane Hopgood first thought of the idea for her Media Grants project A Mother’s Cry, it sparked some of her deepest emotions.
Her idea – to create a multimedia project about Pasifika mothers in Aotearoa who had experienced perinatal depression, or depression before or during pregnancy – was close to her heart. She had lived through perinatal depression herself with the birth of her son.
Sela’s experiences weren’t unusual. During her recovery, she’d learned that Pasifika mothers have the highest rates of perinatal depression in Aotearoa, and she also knew they experienced stigma due to the taboos around depression in Pasifika communities.
“For Pasifika communities and families, we tend to be very convenient and share the responsibilities of raising a child, so everyone has a hand in doing something to help care for a child – be it in a physical or a spiritual way,” she says.
“So, when someone says they’re experiencing depression, they all take it personally; they feel like they’ve failed in some way. So, there’s a lot of shame.”
These two issues – that Pasifika mothers have the highest rates of perinatal depression, but also feel they can’t talk about them with others - drove Sela to make her project happen. She applied for a Media Grant, won one, and started to develop her three-part radio, written and filmed story series, which aimed both to expose these inequities and challenge mental distress discrimination.
Although Sela had experienced postnatal depression, she was initially apprehensive about featuring her own story in the series.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to put myself in the spotlight – not just for a cultural reason, but also professionally; I don’t want to be the story, I want to help someone else share their story.”
But, after giving it some more thought, Sela realised how powerful it would be for her community to see not only a Pasifika woman but a journalist speaking out about a topic that is often treated in hushed tones.
To find other lived experience stories to sit alongside her own, Sela reached out to a Facebook group called Poly Mama’s Community, which is full of Pasifika mums based in Aotearoa, Australia, the US and the Pacific region. It’s a popular group, where comments about mental health and postnatal depression were a frequent theme. Sela asked if there were any mothers who would be keen to be featured in the series.
“There was definitely interest in sharing those stories and how they’d overcome those experiences, which I was really, really proud to see,” she says.
“But it was also very scary seeing how many mums were going through what I’d gone through, which pushed me to do the story even more, so these women would know they weren’t alone.”
RNZ were very enthusiastic about broadcasting Sela’s story series, and being able to focus on this project alone meant that she was able to give it her all. The Nōku te Ao: Like Minds Media Grant funded part of the project, and she says the support from the team at the Mental Health Foundation was invaluable when it came to shaping the story and making sure she was telling it in a productive and responsible way.
“The financial support also allowed me to produce a video. We know at RNZ that Pasifika audiences are more drawn to video content, so having a form of content that they were more likely to tune into was crucial, because it would help get that message out there of reducing that stigma around depression and in particular, perinatal depression.”
The entire series was very impactful for the community, Sela found – both from the number of messages she received from not only friends and family but others in her community, and also from the interest she got from other media, who wanted to talk to her about perinatal depression in the Pasifika community.
Her advice for anyone wanting to apply for a Media Grant is to “absolutely go for it,” Sela says.
“Especially if you’re passionate about talking about mental health and reducing the stigma that goes with it; it’s so necessary these days to have these topics on media platforms so that people can not only know that these conversations are valid, but that what they’re feeling is also valid.”