I was one of those people who was completely uneducated about depression until it came knocking at my door in 2004. It wasn’t until my wonderful wife, Michelle, went through an emergency C-section and severe postnatal depression that it had an impact on me and my family. Michelle needed specialized perinatal mental health services, but sadly, they were not in place back then.
I witnessed trauma and thought that Michelle and our baby were going to die, which led to my first-ever panic attack at the age of thirty. Over the next twelve months my personality totally changed. I felt tremendous anger, and I now know that I had a breakdown and was suffering from postpartum depression too.
Over the years, I have campaigned for all parents to be screened and supported, and I have spoken to many fathers. I’ve learned that postpartum depression and anxiety can look very different in fathers. For me, I acted totally out of character and wanted to avoid family members. I drank more to cope and was not feeling the overwhelming paternal love that society was telling me I should. I was even starting fights with the doorman, hoping someone would hit me and somehow release the pain I was feeling inside. I was overeating, isolated from society, and looking after Michelle. I was having money worries after giving up work for six months and couldn’t tell my best mates due to the stigma. I didn’t think men could have postnatal depression and felt I had to “man up” because all I wanted was for my wife to be happy.
My wonderful wife, Michelle,recovered after finding support. I felt I couldn’t tell her how I was feeling as I didn’t want to impact her mental health. On the other hand, who was I to go to for help? I didn’t know.
I hated feeling the way I did and didn’t feel like a man. Wasn’t I supposed to be the strong one? The one good thing that did happen while being off work for six months, looking after Michelle is that I gained that important bonding and attachment which I was first missing when our son was born. I’m also happy my relationship grew stronger as a result of what we went through, and coming through the illness. If only I hadn’t suffered in silence as so many families do.
This is not a sad story. This is a story of hope that tells you that you can return from the depths of depression to have even more purpose in your life and to change how you look at mental health. I have been at my lowest ebb and have come out the other side. We both have. That’s what my book is about. We want to help others for this generation and future mums and dads too. If I can do it, why can’t you? I now know it’s possible. The best advice I can give you all is that the quicker you get the help, the quicker the recovery.
Mark Williams is a keynote speaker, author, trainer and international campaigner. In 2004 he himself experienced depression and suffered in silence for years until he had a breakdown. He founded International Fathers Mental Health Day along with Dr. Daniel Singley and the #Howareyoudad campaign to make sure all parents are asked about their mental health.
Mark has spoken on television and radio stations around the world and works with Dr. Jane Hanley. They have published articles on fathers’ mental health together. Mark was awarded inspirational father of the year and local hero at the Pride of Britain Awards in 2012 and was invited to meet the royal family on World Mental Health Day in 2016.