Post-natal depression has been known as a debilitating condition many women face when they become mums, however what society doesn’t tend to talk about is the amount of men that are also affected by this mental health illness. A study carried out by the UK Medical Research Council and the University College London shows that around 21% of men will suffer a depressive episode after they become fathers.
Despite these staggering figures showing that post-natal depression is affecting a large amount of men, many people still perceive this mental health illness as one that picks genders. Whether it’s simply a matter of unawareness or a sexist mindset, the stigma still exists. This is preventing many men from seeking the help they need.
Post-natal depression counsellor Liz Wise further explains the symptoms and causes for post-natal depression in men.
When asked why she believes so many people are still unaware that post-natal depression happens in men she said:
“No disrespect to our men but they aren’t as particularly good at opening up as we are, for some men they may see depression as a sign of weakness. A sign of failure. They may see themselves as the head of the household, the strong one, so they can’t own up to feeling the way that they are. They feel they have to stay strong for everyone else and are less likely to go to their GP and say they need help.”
Even though it may be in many men’s inherent nature and personality to prefer to keep their emotions reserved, the way society views mental health is a contributing factor to this problem. Society has built an idea that men are meant to be mentally and physically strong. Men can’t have weaknesses and mental health continues to be seen as a weakness. Men therefore feel they have to live up to this expectation and hide how they truly feel.
Liz went on to explain that post-natal depression, as with any type of depression, is a gradual process and the person suffering may not realise they’ve got it until they’ve hit rock bottom. This may especially happen to first time parents.
“A lot of parents become depressed quite significantly around the 6-month mark and that may be because they aren’t aware that they aren’t feeling particularly right and they think that’s how first time parents feel.”
Steve Aguirre, a former US Marine and now father of two, suffered with post-natal depression after the birth of his first daughter. However, as a first-time parent he didn’t know what it was straight away.
“I experienced post- natal depression with the birth of my first daughter. I kind of expected that I wouldn’t bond right away because that’s the kind of person I am and attributed a lot of my negative behaviour to being tired or being frustrated with the hardest on the job training you’ll ever do. Things were pretty bad in terms of my mood.”
Steve started following parenting blogs once he became a dad and it was one of those blogs that helped him discover he had post-natal depression.
“I was scrolling through Facebook when one particular blog shared an article titled “this is something new dads aren’t talking about” so I clicked on it and it was about post-natal depression in dads. As I read the article it was talking about symptoms and stuff and by the end of it I was literally crying my eyes out. It hit home and it made me realise something was very very wrong with me. I, of course, planned on keeping this information to myself until my wife saw what i was researching and brought it up.”
Steve asked for help from his GP and was put on antidepressants for 6 months. When his treatment came to an end Steve was finally able to bond with his daughter.
“I didn’t feel like a dad until the end of my antidepressants course. By then she was a year old and that’s when I felt the bond forming and now we’re inseparable.”
When asked why he thinks many people aren’t aware men can get post-natal depression Steve said:
“I’m firmly in the “nurture” camp of nature vs nurture. We’re not socialised to talk about our feelings or express emotions in a positive way so when things bother us they manifest themselves in a negative way. The main thing I would say is to raise awareness about it and have sufferers and their partners talk openly about it to lift the stigma. I’m loud and proud in talking about my experience in the hope that others will feel it’s okay to not be okay.”
Tony and Mel Crone are an example of a family that have been working to help lift this stigma.
Tony suffered with post-natal depression after the birth of his first child, Elizabeth.
Tony first realised something was wrong when he started to feel detached from his daughter.
“I was sent home about an hour after she was born so unfortunately that night I didn’t get very long with Elizabeth. I wasn’t allowed on the ward it was a case of go home or we’ll call security. It left me feeling like I wasn’t doing my duty as a dad. I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. The next day Elizabeth came home and things were ok for the first week or so but I think we made the mistake instead of having two weeks of isolation we had two weeks of visitor after visitor so it was hard for me to bond with Elizabeth. I started to develop detachment issues there and then. I would struggle when she cried on me.”
At this point Mel confesses she was unaware that Tony was struggling. “I didn’t realise at the time that Tony was having detachment issues because he was working so when he went back to work it was just a case of right he has to be up early for work he needs a good night’s sleep so I used to get up during the night most of the time. Again, when he came home from work if he was tired I’d say don’t worry I’ll sort Elizabeth out. Looking back it was the wrong thing to do. I should have encouraged them to spend time together.”
Tony believed he had post-natal depression and asked for help, however because he was a man he wasn’t taken seriously and was told ‘only women get post-natal depression’.
After being advised to go to dad and mum activity groups and having cognitive behaviour therapy Tony was offered medication. However, the side effects from the medication made matters worse and Tony tried to take his life. Only then did the medical team come to the conclusion that men can have post-natal depression.
“I think it all changed the night after I tried to take my life. That night I got home and broke down with Mel and we sat and spoke for hours. I think Elizabeth changed. During that evening she did something she’d never done. She pushed away from Mel. I’d never seen her push away from Mel and want daddy. That moment made me feel like I need to get better. If not for me for Elizabeth and Mel so I can be the dad I want to be.
Even though it’s been a long road for Mel and Tony, they are both dedicated to helping others who find themselves in a similar position. Tony started a blog and Twitter page where he encourages men to talk to each other and share their experiences. He has also created a support group every Monday from 7 to 8pm where men and women can openly talk without judgement.
Both Mel and Tony believe opening up is a crucial part of getting better and Mel explains that when their daughter Elizabeth was born her family weren’t very supportive in how Tony was feeling.
“Some of my close friends and relatives used to say he just needs to get over it and man up.”
Despite this,Tony reiterates that anyone suffering should not be afraid of what people are going to say or be scared of being judged, seeking help is crucial.
When asked why he thinks many people are still not aware men can get post-natal depression Tony said:
“I think it’s down to two things, as men we don’t like talking. We live in a society where everyone is equal, gender roles are reversed there is no women do this, men do that anymore. But we still see it as a sign of weakness and a sign of not being manly. And as men we are scared of what people will say and what people will think of us. It’s an attack on your manhood when you have depression. In our eyes, you should be the strong masculine figure women need and to say we are struggling sort of attacks that. We have too much pride and don’t want to talk about it. We’re too proud to tell people we’re struggling but how can someone help us and know there’s an issue if we don’t talk about it.”
Mark Williams is also a dad who has experienced post-natal depression.
Mark’s wife suffered with severe post-natal depression after the birth of their son and Mark had to give up his job in order to look after them both. Despite facing extremely challenging circumstances Mark didn’t feel that he could talk to family or friends about it.
“I couldn’t tell my friends because I knew nothing about mental health 12 years ago so how would they understand? Then I started to feel depressed because I didn’t know how long it would take for her to feel well. Every day I was thinking is this my life? I started doubting myself.”
“A lot of men find it hard to go and seek help because of the stigma and it’s a bigger problem that people think. Men are brought up to look hard and don’t show much emotion. I show my emotion to my son; every day I tell him I love him and he shows it back. Sometimes we hold it in ourselves and it builds up. Until it gets to the crisis point I think that’s when men seek help.”
After his recovery Mark decided to help others in similar positions and is now the founder of Fathers Reaching Out. This organisation enables men to talk openly and find support in each other. Mark explains that through his charity he has spoken to over two thousand fathers and every single one has a different story. Mark believes it is crucial that men who are struggling seek help as there’s a high chance their mental health will begin impacting on the mother’s mental health.
“sometimes it’s only the father that is struggling and the father should be monitored too just like the mother.”
Mark goes on to say that early prevention is key, not only because it avoids deteriorating relationships and the persons’ mental health but because it’s economically beneficial.
“1 in 10 men get diagnosed with post-natal depression and there’s an economical report from Maternal Mental Health Alliance that said if we spent £337 million on NHS services on early prevention it would save £8.1 billion.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a plan where she aims to transform the way mental health is dealt with and how it’s perceived. Her plan consists of providing schools with knowledge on mental health in order to support children and young people.The Prime Minister is also working on creating a partnership with employers in order to provide mental health support in the workplace.
In a speech Theresa May said:
“For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society.”
The government has also stated recently that they are working towards being able to provide alternative to hospitals.
- Recognising that seeing a GP or going to A&E is not or does not feel like the right intervention for many people with mental ill-health, the government will build on its £15 million investment to provide and promote new models of community – based care such as crisis cafes and community clinics.
- plans to rapidly expand treatment by investing in and expanding digital mental health services. Digitally assisted therapy has already proved successful in other countries and the government will speed up the delivery of a £67.7 million digital mental health package so that those worried about stress, anxiety or more serious issues can go online, check their symptoms and if needed, access digital therapy immediately rather than waiting weeks for a face-to-face appointment – with further follow up face-to-face sessions offered as necessary.
While post-natal depression may never disappear from our society, bringing awareness to this matter and providing treatment within reach to people is essential in tackling this condition and providing sufferers and their families with the support they need on their road to recovery.