Postnatal Depression in men? If you had asked me years ago, I didn’t know that depression really existed. I was totally uneducated about the illness until it came into our lives and changed them forever.
In 2004, my wife, Michelle got taken to theatre for an emergency C-section for the birth of our son. It was a traumatic experience and I was obviously scared – I thought she was going to die! – but both Michelle and Ethan were OK, thankfully. But what became apparent soon after was that Michelle was suffering from anxiety and depression.
I remember at the time having dreams about how both my loved ones had died in the theatre and having vivid thoughts about the knives on the table next to me. I would wake up thinking it was all real, but little did I know just how real things would get when Michelle went on to have severe postnatal depression. My wonderful wife, Michelle, totally changed and it was horrible watching your loved one going through this daily. I would have given everything up, any amount of money, for her to be well.
I was so uneducated about mental health that I’d think: “How can people be depressed?” But within weeks I had to give up my job to care for Michelle
I was 30 years of age and had never known anyone with the illness. I was so uneducated about mental health that I’d think: “How can people be depressed?” But within weeks I had to give up my job to care for Michelle and Ethan. I’d loved the social side of my work and now I was totally isolated; I didn’t even get out the front door for days. My personality quickly changed and I was drinking more to cope. I became angry to the point that when I did manage to get out with friends, I wanted to fight the doorman to get hurt and stop these feelings I was getting in my head. I even broke my hand after punching the sofa – totally out of character – when Ethan was about six months. I was now having suicidal thoughts and couldn’t control them.
I had to be strong and look after her – look after them both. But the truth is that I wasn’t well, either. I didn’t know at the time and struggled on without telling anyone. I was afraid of people knowing and it affecting my work, and being on the medical records if I changed careers. I didn’t know anyone who had suffered and kept my smiley appearance going. I didn’t want it to affect Michelle’s mental health. There were days I would draw the curtains and didn’t want to talk to people, which was a first for me.
I was afraid of people knowing and it affecting my work… I didn’t know anyone who had suffered and kept my smiley appearance going
The problem is that at the time I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. I was brought up in a working-class community where my father and his father were coal miners. I had to “man up” in my way of thinking. As much as we are a close family, there wasn’t much emotion shown when things were tough and I always kept it suppressed inside like a gas bottle ready to explode.
Michelle’s postnatal depression lasted around 18 months, and the not knowing how long she would be unwell for was the hardest part. And of course it affected our relationship, which might well have ended as happens to so many families with no early prevention during this time. I started lying to Michelle; I would tell her I was going to work but in fact I was isolating myself from people. I was my own boss and could get away with it; I didn’t see the point of it all at times and felt totally alone.
I suffered mood changes for years after until, sadly, my grandfather died. Then, within a few weeks, my beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer; she later recovered but I thought I was going to lose her as well within weeks. This I feel triggered everything again: I was getting these thoughts and nightmares until, while sitting in my car before work one day in 2011, I had what I know now was a breakdown.
The problem is that at the time I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone… I had to “man up” in my way of thinking… I always kept it suppressed inside like a gas bottle ready to explode.
Eventually I was put on medication, took a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness, and I was lucky to be able to turn things around. I was so glad to be offered the help and engaged in everything I could. I myself was under community mental health teams and was later diagnosed with ADHD which I had managed without knowing for years. I know now that if awareness was out there I would have been diagnosed with postnatal depression too.
Now both myself and my wife are fine and we both work in mental health to help others who are suffering. I have totally changed my life and have more purpose and passion than ever before after talking to other fathers and families.
But it’s important that we use our story to raise awareness – we need to get the message out there and let people know that it can happen to all parents and that the sooner you open up and get the right help, the quicker recovery really is for you. I just wish that I had known that back then and talked about my mental health – now I can’t shut up about it as I know it will help others.