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27/04/2018 08:45 SAST | Updated 27/04/2018 08:48 SAST

Charlize Theron's Movie 'Tully' Angers Maternal Mental Health Advocates

Warning: this post contains plot spoilers about the movie "Tully."

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Charlize Theron poses at the premiere for "Tully" in Los Angeles April 18, 2018.
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Warning: this post contains plot spoilers about the movie "Tully."

Maternal mental health advocates are fuming over Hollywood's latest depiction of postpartum depression in the movie "Tully," starring Charlize Theron, set to hit theatres May 4th.

"It makes my blood boil," Lisa Tremayne, co-founder of the Bloom Foundation and director of the Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at one of the largest birthing hospitals in New Jersey, told HuffPost Canada.

"This is such a missed opportunity to help stop the stigma. Sadly, so many women are already planning a moms' night out to see this movie. We must issue a warning."

There's no mention of postpartum depression at all in the movie trailer, which has many moms excited about a major motion picture they are being led to believe finally depicts the true trials of motherhood, sleepless nights and all.

Not so, according to Motherly, who published a scathing review after an advance screening, and called on the film industry to responsibly address maternal mental illness in light of what they perceive to be its misportrayal in "Tully."

"The reason that people are so excited about 'Tully' is because they feel like it is the first time that true motherhood is being portrayed on the big screen — but this is not true motherhood," writes Motherly digital education editor, midwife, and pediatric nurse, Diana Spalding.

"Motherhood is hard, yes, but it is not this. This is mental illness. Brushing aside her mental illness again refuses to give it the attention it deserves."

The 'brush off' isn't the advocate's only concern.

Warning! Spoilers Ahead ...

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Charlize Theron attends the premiere for "Tully" in Los Angeles on April 18, 2018.

Turns out, Theron's character, Marlo, isn't just an exhausted and overwhelmed new mom still grappling with baby weight and an impossible mess of a house amid caring for two children in addition to her newborn.

But she's also a delusional, dangerous and manic mom. And she's not suffering from postpartum depression — which is what a hospital doctor diagnoses her with (and springs on unsuspecting movie-goers) after Marlo and her night nanny (who turns out to be imaginary) get into a car accident after a night of drinking — but from postpartum psychosis, advocates argue.

And this is the crux of the issue they have with the movie.

"My issue with the movie is not that it is about a woman with postpartum mental illness — indeed we need many, many more movies about postpartum mental illness," writes Spalding.

"My issue is that in not addressing the fact that Marlo has postpartum psychosis, the rampant problem of unaddressed maternal mental health concerns is perpetuated."

Postpartum psychosis is rare and dangerous

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Postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of anger, irritability, guilt, shame, hopelessness, and sadness, but delusions, strange beliefs and hallucinations are symptoms more in line with a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis, as are cases of infanticide, according to Postpartum Support International (PSI).

And while postpartum depression affects 15-20 per cent of women, postpartum psychosis is a much rarer perinatal mental illness affecting just one to two women out of every 1,000 deliveries. Most worryingly is that four per cent of those women go on to harm their infants, according to a recent study.

"PSI is hoping to review the film as soon as possible so we have an informed and accurate understanding and dialogue," PSI Executive Director, Wendy Newhouse Davis, told HuffPost Canada. "We don't want to miss the opportunity to raise awareness and share accurate information."

HuffPost Canada's attempts to interview the director of "Tully" were not successful. In an email, Janice Luke of NBC Universal, the company responsible for releasing "Tully" along with Focus Features responded: "Unfortunately we're going to pass on this."

Movie-goers should be warned

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Mackenzie Davis, who plays the night nanny, poses at the premiere for "Tully" in Los Angeles on April 18, 2018.

Claire Zlobin said she isn't waiting to see the movie.

As the founder of Life With A Baby a Canadian non-profit helping moms deal with the isolation of postpartum depression, Zlobin feels it's important to warn moms ahead of the movie's release. So she started a social media campaign using the hashtag #thisisNOTpospartumdepression.

"If it's true, it's very disappointing the illness would be so grossly misdiagnosed in a major motion picture when we know that only 15 per cent of women who experience a postpartum mood disorder get treatment because of the stigma and shame associated with it," Zlobin told HuffPost Canada. "I think mothers should be made aware going into the movie that it might be triggering."

Michelle Lavergne, a maternal mental health social worker who runs the Hold on Pain Ends (HOPE) support groupfor moms with moderate to severe postpartum depression, is taking it one step further.

"A warning should be issued," Lavergne told HuffPost Canada, "and I also think moms should be encouraged to consider boycotting the film. How else can we begin to change the way mental health is portrayed?"

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