Like Emmerdale's Paddy, I had postnatal depression as a new dad
Watching Paddy Kirk (Dominic Brunt) feel like a bad father in this week’s episode of Emmerdale, as he broke down and shouted at his daughter Eve, brought back a load of mixed emotions for me.
It reminded me of my own painful memories as a new dad, when I too had yelled at my baby.
My wife, Michelle, was unwell in bed at the time and after changing him at 4am in the morning, my son peed all over me. As soon as I yelled at him, I took myself downstairs and shouted even louder.
However, I am also relieved that Paddy’s story is being told. I’ve been waiting for a soap to prioritise a storyline on this often forgotten topic – the struggles that some men go through when they have a child.
My son’s birth was traumatic, not just for Michelle but me too. After 20 hours in the labour ward, three doctors came into the room looking worried and told me that my wife needed an emergency c-section. I thought she and our new baby were both going to die, and had my first ever panic attack.
Watching Michelle go through the birth really affected me. She was in pain, and all I wanted to do was protect her, but I couldn’t. I felt scared and useless.
The experience overshadowed the overwhelming feeling of love that parents of newborns talk about. I was too anxious to feel that joy, merely relieved that our son was alive.
Two weeks after the birth, Michelle became extremely unwell. She hadn’t slept for two weeks and was quickly diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND). Crisis teams were supporting her while I took care of our son but this meant I was unable to go back to work.
With no money to pay our mortgage, the bills were mounting up.
My personality changed completely. I was normally carefree but felt like I was on red alert all the time, not knowing how long Michelle was going to be unwell for or what to do about money.
The anxiety I’d had since my boy was born gave way to depression and paranoia about our protecting him. I had no motivation and saw no light at the end of the tunnel.
I was angry, too, and avoided socialising with friends and family members. When I did go out, I would would start agreements with doormen because I wanted them to hit me – it was like self-harming without doing it myself.
Around the four-month mark of our son’s birth, I began having suicidal thoughts. I felt like a failure as a father, and my confidence was at an all-time low. It was the loneliest I had ever felt, and it was only thinking about my son son that kept me alive.
It wasn’t until a few years later, however, when my grandfather died and my mother was diagnosed with cancer (she has since recovered) that things came to a head.
I was drinking more and more to stop my mind racing. Michelle was fully recovered but unaware that I was struggling – and one day, I couldn’t get out of the car.
I just sat there, full of anxiety, my mind was ready to explode.
This was when I finally realised I needed help and went to see my GP, who put me on medication and diagnosed me with depression.
I was also assigned not one but two excellent cognitive behavioural therapy counsellors. But it wasn’t until I was in contact with community mental health services that I finally opened up about my own struggles as a father.
Back in 2004, when my son was born, no one knew much about paternal mental health. I was never diagnosed with PND or PTSD. A new father with PND? The response was often, ‘What has he got to be depressed about, he didn’t give birth!’
But during my recovery I got talking to another father who had also suffered in silence and, from then, I made it my mission to raise awareness and founded Fathers Reaching Out, a campaign on male postnatal depression.
One in 10 fathers will suffer from PND, and even more will suffer from anxiety.
With suicide still the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, we need to act now. This is a global concern, and I am pushing for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to officially recognise paternal mental health and support all parents.
We urgently need to screen all new dads for postnatal depression, the same way we do with mums. It will save both lives and relationships, as well as improve the outcome of their child’s development.
Looking back, it was such an awful time, which is why I now work so hard to tell dads who are suffering to have a conversation about their mental health.
It will be the best thing they ever did. There is no shame in being honest – being a real man is getting the help you need for yourself and your family.
Do you have a story that you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
Source: Read Full Article