Dad’s Mental Health: Navigating Postnatal Depression by Mark Williams
If you asked me about depression years ago, I would have said "There are worse-off people in the world." I was so uneducated about mental health back then, let alone Postnatal Depression. If you were to ask people today whether men can experience depression during the postnatal period, they would still question "How?" However, I will tell you that it happened to me and my wonderful wife, Michelle.
In 2004, my wife Michelle was taken to the 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! Both Michelle and Ethan turned out to be okay, thankfully. What became apparent soon after was that Michelle was suffering from anxiety and depression.
I remember at the time having dreams about both my loved ones dying in the theatre and vividly thinking 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.
I was 30 years old 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 old. 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, I wasn't well either. I didn't know at the time and struggled on without telling anyone. I was afraid of people knowing, fearing it might affect my work and be recorded in medical records if I were to change careers. I didn't know anyone who had suffered and so I kept my smiley appearance going as it didn’t want it to affect Michelle's mental health.
The problem was 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." As much as we are a close family, there wasn’t many emotions shown when things were tough, keeping it all suppressed inside felt 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 was the most difficult part. Of course, it also impacted our relationship, which may 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. Since I was my own boss, I 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 afterward until, sadly, my grandfather passed away. Then, within a few weeks, my beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer, though she later recovered. But for a while, I thought I was going to lose her as well, just weeks apart. This, I believe, triggered more of those thoughts and nightmares until finally, in 2010, while sitting in my car before heading into work, I had what I now recognise as a breakdown.
Eventually, I was put on medication, underwent a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness, and was lucky to be able to turn things around. I was diagnosed with ADHD at forty years of age, but if I was screened earlier, it would have shown postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing a traumatic birth and when my wife tried to take her life.
I didn’t want any more children afterwards and I think that’s how I processed that I would never have to go through that experience again. I love my son more than life itself, who is now eighteen years of age but struggled during that first year of fatherhood.
Now, both my wife and I are fine, and we both work in mental health to help others who are suffering. It's essential that we use our story to raise awareness – we need to spread the message and let people know that it can happen to all parents. The sooner you open up and get the right help, the quicker the recovery process can be. I just wish I knew that back then and had spoken about my mental health – now I can’t shut up about it as I know it will help others.
About the author
Mark Williams BCAh FRSA is a Keynote Speaker, Author and International campaigner. He founded International Fathers Mental Health Day and #Howareyoudad campaign to make sure all parents are having support for the whole family.
Mark has spoken on television and radio stations around the world while working with Dr Jane Hanley who have both published articles on Fathers ( Paternal) Mental Health together. Mark was awarded Inspirational Father of the year and local hero at the Pride of Britain Awards in 2012 even invited to meet The Royal Family on World Mental Health Day also awarded the Point Of light Award by the Prime Minister in 2019. In 2020 Mark published the report called "Fathers Reaching Out - Why Dads Matter" to explain the importance of paternal mental health which has far better outcomes for the whole family and the development of the child when we include fathers. In 2021 the film Daddy Blues based on Mark journey is now available on Amazon Prime.