Zoë Tapper reveals how ‘crippling postnatal depression’ changed her life: ‘It hit me like a sledgehammer’
Watch: Zoë Tapper says she didn't get the support she needed for postnatal depression 12 years ago
When ITVX’s police drama Grace returns this week, new viewers might struggle to recall where they have previously seen star Zoë Tapper.
“I've never been one of those actors that people instantly recognise,” the actor told Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time.
Strangers, she said, often feel they know her from “real life”.
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“I get it mostly in queues for the toilet,” she joked. “[People say] ‘Do you know my brother? Did we used to go to school together?’”
Tapper described the awkward task of having to ask if they might “have seen me on the telly?”
“[And then] they're like… ‘I think it is that… I'm so sorry…’ and then I feel like an idiot!”
In fact the actor has been a regular face on film and TV for 20 years, since securing her first film role just a week out of drama school, opposite Rupert Everett and Claire Danes in period drama Stage Beauty.
Since then, she’s appeared in a number of hit TV shows, including Nexflix’s The One, and ITV’s Mr Selfridge, and alongside such cinema icons Lauren Bacall and Anjelica Huston on the big screen.
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Yet, as Tapper told Thornton, there was a time when her life came close to being derailed by an illness that hit her out of the blue.
“When I had my daughter, almost 12 years ago, I almost immediately, post-birth, had crippling postnatal depression,” the actor revealed. “It hit me like a sledgehammer, and I couldn’t actually access the help I needed, at all.”
As someone “who hadn't really experienced any kind of mental health difficulties in the past” Tapper, who had been “so ready to be a mum” found herself blindsided.
While medication helped, she explained that she “didn't really recover from it properly psychologically, because I couldn't talk about it… I didn't have the people supporting me that I needed to sort of work through those very complicated feelings.”
“I think the pills are great – like, take the pills if you need to take the pills,” she continued, “but I would also say, they need to be in conjunction with other forms of therapy as well.”
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With this knowledge in place, Tapper put better support in place during her second pregnancy – only to find herself hit yet again by this “debilitating” maternal illness.
“Two weeks after birth, I’m suddenly like a zombie on the sofa – I mean, it was so extraordinary.”
Her experience led her to Mums Aid, a local organisation to her in London, run by “angel” Miriam Donaghy.
Tapper discovered the organisation was struggling for funding, and offered her assistance.
“I felt so strongly that if I was suffering from this – and with all the people who supported me around me – there must be other women out there who didn't have that support, and were on their own.”
Listen to the full episode to hear Zoë Tapper sharing her experiences of postnatal depression, working with Hollywood greats Lauren Bacall and Anjelica Huston, and achieving her acting dream
Tapper helped Mums Aid with “writing grants and bids”, including a proposal to Children In Need.
“We reasoned that… this has directly affected children,” she explained. “If the mother is not well, and is unable to look after the child to the best of their ability, it has a direct impact on children.”
To her delight, Child In Need funding was secured.
Since then Tapper has watched the “London-centric” organisation grow to become a “nationwide”, “wonderful resource”.
Mums Aid now “provide[s] free counselling services, free psychotherapy, peer support groups” Tapper said, as well as a “sister group called Young Mums Aid, which specifically supports young women with mental health difficulties after birth, and during pregnancy.”
“It’s a brilliant, brilliant organisation.”
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Tapper is now long “recovered” from her own postnatal depression she told Thornton on White Wine Question Time, and has “thrived ever since”.
This included the discovery, also during lockdown, that she had another talent beyond acting. It came, Tapper said, when she and her actor husband Oliver Timsdale, started worrying about work.
“In those early days when we didn't know if we were ever going to have a career again, and, as a two actor-household, that’s when we were like, ‘Whoa, what [else] can you do?’ ‘I can’t do anything else!”
“I've always written,” she explained, “but I've never really thought that it would… be a string to my bow, in a professional context.”
Nevertheless, Tapper decided to “be brave” and sent one piece to a literary agent. “They said we absolutely love it… we're going to represent you.”
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Today, Tapper’s life could not be better. She is back for the third series of Grace, and her own writing work is in development.
“I have wonderful children and I love being a mum.”
While her own battle with postnatal depression is behind her, she continues to advocate for those who are struggling.
“It’s something that I feel really passionately about,” she said.
“I can see the pictures from those times and I was still there… I was still looking after my baby, loving my baby… but I was sort of broken inside and it took me a long time to recover.”
For help and support
If you are in need of support, you can call the Samaritans day or night, 365 days a year for free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
Mind's helpline is 0300 123 3393, their email address is email@example.com and their website is www.mind.org.uk.
If you think you may be suffering from postnatal depression or other mental health problems, you are also advised to speak to your GP.