Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

Marvel Comics Explores Postpartum Depression in "Daredevil"

How to address mental health issues with sensitivity in pop culture

In last week's Daredevil #7, writer Mark Waid, artists Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez, and the rest of the creative team touched on a topic rarely discussed in superhero comics: postpartum depression. In the preceding issue, Matt Murdock (Daredevil) experienced a flash of memory from his early childhood in which his father was holding him and looming menacingly over his mother, who was cowering on the floor in fear. His mother left Matt and his dad soon afterwards and, as Matt found out as an adult, she had become a nun named Sister Maggie. Matt never knew exactly why she left, however, and he feared based on this new memory that his father had abused her. When he asked her in Daredevil #7, however, she told him the real reason: She suffered from postpartum depression and felt she had to leave before she hurt her son.

I asked my good friend Lauren Hale, the founder of #ppdchat on Twitter and blogger at My Postpartum Voice, to write about the comic from her point of view, and I'm happy to share her comments with my readers at Psychology Today.

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All too often when mental health issues make a splash in pop culture, they are portrayed in extreme situations. Sensationalism makes for a glitzy storyline, one that is more dramatic and pulls at the reader’s heart and mind. The truth of the matter is that storylines which sensationalize mental health issues do a great disservice to those who live with the reality of mental health struggles on a daily basis.

In Daredevil #7, we find out why Daredevil’s mother abandoned him when he was a child. Mark Waid and his fellow creators identified the cause as a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder. When this happens, I grit my teeth and brace for the worst possible scenario. A mother who abandons her child is thought of in a very negative light. A mother who struggles with a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder is also thought of in a negative light. It is quite a stigma to admit you are not happy when you have a child. So much of a stigma that it keeps many moms from reaching out for help.

Waid and Co., however, got it right. In fact, they got it so right that I want to go buy a copy of this comic and give it to everyone I know.

They approached Postpartum Support International for information. Then something amazing happened.They used it appropriately.

As Sister Maggie, Daredevil’s mother, describes her experience as a new mother, her words struck home. Instead of sensationalizing her journey, the writer made it relatable and very down to earth.The key points of Maggie’s confession for me were the following:

Addressing the reality of doctors not understanding what it was when she went through it.

  • The impossibility of talking to a doctor about a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder without feeling some level of shame.

  • Describing how the monster of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety grows as it goes untreated.

  • Expressing the guilt she felt over her actions and failure to find help for herself at the time.

  • How even though her husband tried to reassure her, “the more frightened…(she)…became.”

  • The voice echoing in her head that she was the worst mother ever.

  • The overwhelming jealousy, rage, and guilt which consumed her.

The most chilling panel for me in this comic, however, was the one where Maggie was looking in the mirror, staring back at herself with an awful look on her face. I have been there in my own brushes with Postpartum OCD. I would stare at myself in the mirror and not recognize the person staring back at me. It was my face, my eyes, my skin, but not me. Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders do that to you: They waste you away from the inside out until you are just a shell of a person. It is quite possibly the scariest thing to experience. To know that you are inside there somewhere but not able to access yourself. It’s like needing to get to your email account but you can’t remember the password and there’s no one who can give it to you so you’re completely lost until it comes back to you.

The most amazing moment, however, was when Maggie apologies for her behavior and for "failing" him, to which Daredevil responds:

Oh. Failing. Right. You mean by pulling yourself up out of a suicidal depression by faith and sheer force of will to become a force of good on this planet? We should all fail so tragically.

You see, when she ran away, she found solace in the church and became a nun. The thing about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders is that our journey to recovery and back to ourselves is different for every mother. What works for one may not work for another. Nowadays, it is still difficult to seek help but doctors understand it better. The tides are changing, albeit slowly.

Marvel Comics again knocks it out of the ballpark with the last page of the comic book, which is entirely dedicated to sharing information about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. They reprint, word for word, Postpartum Support International’s "Get the Facts" page along with contact information for Postpartum Support International. They also acknowledge that it is important to get help for a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder.

Thank you, from the bottom of my survivor/advocate heart to all those involved in this project. It is a definite breath of fresh air to see a factual, compassionate, and gentle handling of a very tough situation.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with a Perinatal Mood Disorder, please reach out to Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4PPD. If you're struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you are outside of the United States, reach out to the International Association of Suicide Prevention.

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Cover of Daredevil, vol. 4, #7 (and teaser image from cover to Daredevil, vol. 4, #1) by Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez, from Marvel Comics. You can buy Daredevil #7 online here, and you can read a fantastic review by Christine Hanefalk at her blog The Other Murdock Papers.

Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.

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