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May 2019

Man Up

Living in a mining community we never talked about mental health and if we had a problem it would be just “Man Up” but in 2004 our lives changed forever. I didn’t know anything about mental health at thirty years of age. I had my first ever panic attack after my wife went through a traumatic birth which I witnessed, thinking the love of my life was going to die. My wife went on to have severe postnatal depression which, in hindsight, should have led to a stay in a mother and baby unit as she wasn’t safe and needed support from the crisis team. After months of uncertainty, giving up self-employed work to look after my wife and son, and with a new mortgage to pay, I too was getting depressed. My personality totally changed during the postnatal period – I became angry and started drinking to cope. The only good thing was I was able to start to bond with my son because I was at home looking after my family rather than being back in work within two weeks, which many dads struggle with. I couldn’t tell anyone how I was feeling, particularly my wife because I didn’t want it to impact further on her mental health. I felt I had to “Man Up”, as society would tell us, and I was worried our baby would be taken away if both of us were known to have depression. I was avoiding situations, became lonely, paranoid and even broke my hand punching the sofa while having suicidal thoughts just four months after my son was born. So much had happened in a short space of time, but I suffered for years until I was also needing help from community mental health services. My wife’s depression also came back after looking after me, and again reached the point she needed the crisis team. Today, my wife works in mental health, running drop-in centres, and as an advocate from the charity that helped me. My son is the most educated teenager in his school about mental health issues, and knows he can talk to use if he is struggling. I believe that supporting all parents for their mental health will lead to far better outcomes, not least because the number of relationships that sadly end through such pressures is high and this can be prevented. I know fathers do go into other services after the postnatal period and normally get help only when they’re at crisis point. Many new fathers like me are never diagnosed with depression or Postnatal PTSD as screening is rarely used, but things are changing for the better.