A recent story featured by The BBC discussed how cocaine use among middle class mothers is significantly on the rise, along with alcoholism, and poor mental wellbeing.
Shrouded in stigma, drug-use amongst mothers gets to people as a story because it is so far from the ideal mother – the ‘good’ mother stereotype that all women know of, one way or another.
A mother with drug-misuse problems – or anything else for that matter – horrifies and shocks because it couldn’t be further away from that unrealistic image that society ridiculously upholds and maintains.
Recently, the highly-acclaimed writer, Elizabeth Gilbert (herself not even a mother) took to her Instagram page to shine a light on the problem of shaming mothers if they don’t measure up as ‘good’.
It’s as though we, mums or not, can all see the issue with this nonsense narrative; this heavily marketed demon of an image that we’ve lived with for far too long.
We know it isn’t only impossible to live up to such a role, without cost.
But also that it simply isn’t true.
It isn’t real .
We also all know how easily any mother can slip under the approval of others.
The near-constant watching and judging and expectation and comments… is endless.
Because of that, it’s beyond necessary to block it out in order to find your own way as a mother.
It’s literally mission-impossible to try and do things right by everybody. You’re sort of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Which is funny, and not funny at the same time.
While it’s good not to take what others or society thinks too seriously, and to be able to laugh at it and let it go.
It is also deadly serious if mothers aren’t coping because of it.
And it seems many-aren’t coping, and they’re hiding it.
They’re often very good at hiding it.
Which points to a lot more than the 1 in 5 statistic that we hear for mothers with mental illness at any one time.
As well as the personal denial, not only do more mothers have less practical support – so there are less people who know them well and are able to notice and help with problems.
It’s all too easy to go along with what’s expected of them. Which is to maintain the happy-and-content-all-the-time image, the: “I’m fine” public story.
In fact, I’d go so far as saying the “I’m beyond fine, I’m so busy; I’m doing it all and loving it and I’m not-struggling-one-bit. Not ever.”
All of that pain for fear of judgment?
But when you speak to a mum one-on-one or within the right community, you’ll see everyone experiences the same things.
But it shows that stigma is very real.
Many mums just keep going, keep distracting, keep pushing their feelings away with whatever they have at their disposal.
Because not everybody is able to ignore this stuff.
Nor do many mothers have healthy coping mechanisms for overwhelming feelings, such as anxiety.
It’s all too easy to develop a habit. Be it screen-time; alcohol; shopping; eating; dieting; beauty treatments; cleaning; working; socialising; worrying about their kids every move… anything can become an obsession.
All can easily be used as a mask because there’re all tolerated by society as acceptable.
That’s the truth – and no one is above this stuff.
We could see a mum that’s working full-time, with three children and a beautiful home (that she somehow maintains).
As well as looking fashionable and preened (the image of perfect modern-mum), and yet she has so many destructive habits it’s almost like: well, where do you start?
How do we define healthy?
It’s certainly not what we see on the outside.
We know that appearances are not the marker of good mental health and wellbeing.
Far from it.
One great meme that’s been circulated widely is: “We expect mothers to work as if they don’t have children. And to raise children as if they don’t work.”
It’s certainly true, and as any visit to social media will show: the feelings of discontentment, when it comes to mothers not feeling like they’re doing a good enough job, are very apparent.
The reality is the image of the perfect mother doesn’t exist. Yet it is so damaging and is used to mask serious problems.
Problems such as isolation, mental health issues, and substance misuse issues.
If more and more mothers, (no matter what their demon is in terms of an unhealthy habit – themselves often used to self-medicate for untreated mental illnesses), are that desperate, then what is going on?
The report also referered to the fact that cocaine use is on the rise in the general population. Something covered many times in the press. So there are obviously much wider questions that need to be asked.
Questions that include looking at that while stories such as this are alarming, they are not new: Why have we ignored this?
Back in 2009 The Daily Mail reported that the “number of women abusing cocaine is almost at the same level as men for the first time, with 750,000 Britons having used the Class A drug in the past year. And one in 15 women under 25 admits to using it.”
And this was a decade ago!
Often cocaine, being quite pricey, is regarded as a banker-class thing. But it’s now getting cheaper and more easily accessible for the middle classes.
But equally because they often possess similar abilities to keep issues hidden, it means that it often goes unseen, and the problem is therefore overlooked.
As written in a recent article for The Independent, during a recent speech Sajid Javid, the mayor of London, openly blamed the current rise in violent knife crime on the drug habits of the well-off, accusing them of “hypocrisy in applying ethical standards to some parts of their lives (veganism/eco-friendly/organic etc…) but then abandoning these principles when sharing coke with their friends.”
Ian Hamilton, the author of the article, brilliantly pointed out that while any direct link may only be slightly true, Javid’s actions do at least highlight that drug-use is more than just a working class problem.
It’s happening at all levels of society.
Particularly and including amongst middle-class mothers.
And for me this is more than just a news story. I know of two mothers, one an old friend and one a friend of a friend, who are in rehab for cocaine dependancy. Both I guess could be described as middle-class. They have it all!
I love someone, a young woman, who died because of the drug.
So it is happening.
Just as a bit of context, and according to the same news story as before, “hospital admissions for mental health disorders linked to cocaine have almost trebled in the past decade.”
Not only that, but “Cocaine-related deaths have increased for the sixth year running, up to 432 deaths in England and Wales in 2017, compared with 112 in 2011. (It’s worth noting that these figures refer to powdered and crack cocaine, as official statistics do not differentiate between the two when establishing cause of death. Many of these deaths will involve users who have longstanding addictions to crack cocaine, as well as other co-dependencies.) Users leap from balconies, or fall from mountain paths while under the effects of the drug. Or their bodies give out on them: many deaths take place when users mix cocaine with alcohol, producing the toxic chemical cocaethylene.”
Hamilton also makes a very important point: that we are living in a “time of welfare cuts and ever-longer NHS mental health waiting lists…” and cocaine “seems to offer a quick fix for those struggling with stress or anxiety.”
Among some of the places discovered by Matt Quinton, of The Sun, to have the highest traces of cocaine included the mother and baby rooms at Pepper Pig World.
Something is up!?!
We need to address the issues of mental wellbeing, diagnosis or not, amongst mothers today.
What issues are we facing?
We need to ask questions.
We need to provide answers.
Without proper questioning, and honest responses – which will require bravery and a compassionate societal ear – we won’t be able to address the problem.
I hope we can.
If we can talk and provide space for others to talk safely, just like on that one-to-one level but within the public sphere, then here is every hope.
If you have a drug-use issue that you need help with, please talk to your GP, or someone you trust, and visit: https://www.talktofrank.com/
Help is out there.
For more information about the general nature of drug-use by women, which starts to open-up some questions, please visit: