Mark Williams talks about his own experiences with post natal depression, why dads need more perinatal mental health support and how to get it.
As a new dad, I had no idea about post natal depression. Nor did I know about why dads need more perinatal mental health support, or how to get it. In 2004, I suffered my first ever panic attack at thirty years of age. I did not have a clue what was happening to me. My wife was in labor with our son, and things weren’t going to plan. Michelle went to theatre as she needed an emergency C-Section. I couldn’t shake the thought she was going to die. It was terrifying. Thankfully, Michelle and Ethan were fine, our son was here and all was good – wasn’t it?
During the following weeks and months, I experienced nightmares about Michelle and Ethan dying in the theatre. I would wake up thinking it was real. Sadly, Michelle went on to develop severe postnatal depression and my world changed forever.
Learning About Perinatal Mental Health First Hand
I had never known anyone with postnatal depression. I used to wonder: ‘how can people be depressed? There wasn’t any education available for me. No manual of how to cope. Within weeks of Michelle’s diagnosis, I had to give up my job to care for Michelle and Ethan. My priority was supporting Michelle and Ethan. I was glad to do it, but I was also totally isolated.
Sometimes I would not get out the front door for days. Within months, my personality changed, and I was drinking more alcohol in an attempt to cope. Luckily we had amazing family support for Michelle, however that is not the case for everyone.
I just didn’t feel good enough as a dad and had started over think everything. I’d never been that way before. I had lost the person I was before being a dad. I didn’t recognise myself.
Overwhelmed by New Emotions.
Anger became an overwhelming emotion in my life. If I did manage to get out with friends the anger took over. I wanted to fight the doorman. I had this strange need to get hurt. To try to put a stop to what I was feeling and the thoughts that were going through my head. Now I know that was another way of self-harming.
I began to have uncontrollable suicidal thoughts but thankfully, I never acted on them.
At the time, I felt like I could not talk to anyone. I grew up in a working-class community where my father and grandfather were coal miners. We looked up to ‘hard men’ who did not show their emotions and now I was feeling emotional – and I was feeling weak. I kept telling myself I just had to ‘man up’ and everything would be okay.
It has been over five years of suffering in silence since the trauma I experienced when my son was born. I lost my grandfather, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer just weeks apart, and my mental health seriously declined. I was masking my emotions which was having an impact on Michelle’s mental health
Getting Perinatal Mental Health Support.
One day, whilst sitting in my car before walking into work, I had a complete breakdown, or breakthrough as I now call it. I just couldn’t get out of the car, I was shaking, crying and suicidal thoughts were racing through my mind. I couldn’t go on like this I needed help. So I reached out to my local community mental health teams.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and depression. but not postnatal depression or PTSD. I wasn’t screened or asked about my mental health during the time after my son was born.
I took time off work and whilst on leave, I got talking to a guy at the gym. He told me that he too had suffered and was never asked about his mental health.
We dads are not routinely asked about mental health and well-being after having a child. Even after witnessing a traumatic birth, I wasn’t asked. Mothers are regularly screened for signs of postnatal depression however, father’s aren’t. In my recovery I realised there are many reasons why dads need perinatal mental health support, and they needed to know where to get it.
Perinatal Mental Health Support for Dads – Where to Get It.
I wanted something good to come out of my journey. It was the start of the campaign to help dads access perinatal mental health support. Today I have turned a negative time into a positive one by setting up International Father’s Mental Health Day, the hashtag #HowAreYouDad and a database of information on the latest research and support. I have spoken on television and radio stations around the world and have been awarded several awards for my work. I’m proud to have met the royal family in 2016 on World Mental Health Day.
Now, I work closely with mental health professionals, and with midwives in the NHS. I am working to embed Father’s Perinatal Mental Health Checks into every NHS Trust across the country. This will mean that fathers will be routinely screened for Post Natal Depressions – just like mothers are.
Today I’m a keynote speaker and author with many articles published in journals with my mentor Dr. Jane Hanley. With one-in-ten dad’s suffering postnatal depression and up to fifty percent suffering depression looking after their partners we need to support everyone. I recently published a report that shows there remains a high risk of suicide in new dads. Dads are diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but the root of the problem is never discussed or treated.
Perinatal Mental Health Support For All.
My campaign has always been about supporting all parents with their mental health, and using a holistic approach. But a fathers voice wasn’t being heard. I am changing that.
When I think about signs and symptoms of postnatal depression with mums, what I know now is that dads can experience those feelings as well. Although it can look different in their behaviours, which is something that needs more research.
With two published books, and a film coming out called “Daddy Blues”, I feel parents should have the education that anyone can suffer during this time for a range of reasons.
For more information on helping Fathers with Perinatal Mental Health, please take a look at my books, Daddy Blues and Fathers and Perinatal Mental Health: A Guide for Recognition, Treatment and Management.
Watch the relevant Dad Chats Live Episode
If you’d like to watch and listen to Mark talking about this subject don’t forget you can check out his guest appearance on Dad Chats Live. Our Weekly parenting chats hosted on our Instagram Account.
Has this post helped you?
Has this post got you thinking about perinatal mental health support for dads? Maybe you have your own experiences you’d like to share with us? Please leave your comments in the section below and share this and other Dadvengers Posts with your family and parenting friends.
To find support in your local area, visit Hub of Hope and enter your postcode. This fantastic site was recommended by Mark in the Dadvengers Friday Night Dad Chats live – if you missed it, have a look here.
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