When we think about men that suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder, we automatically think of men that have fought in a war, or men that are associated with the armed forces. It is important to remember that men can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to many other traumatic experiences and events.
Many men suffer PTSD after they have been present at the birth of a child. The birth of a child can be a very distressing time for all present. Difficulties can arise which endanger the lives of the mum and baby and which require emergency treatment e.g.: emergency surgery. Being present at the birth of a child when there are complications can lead to a man suffering with PTSD. For many men watching the person they love suffering and in pain when they can't do anything to stop it, is very distressing. It can leave them feeling both powerless and helpless. Not knowing what is happening can also be very frightening for them.
Some men that suffer from PTSD experience suicidal thoughts and can sink into a deep depression. They may experience repeated flash backs of the birth and can often relive the fear and panic that they felt.
Men can observe horrific scenes at the birth of a child. In some situations the child and mum have to have medical intervention to help them. For example, a baby may need to go into special care and may need help breathing. The father may fear he is going to lose both, or either, his wife and child. In some devastating situations, some men have actually lost their partner or child.We must remember that a traumatic birth is a horrific experience for both the mum, baby and also for the person observing it. A Dad in this situation can experience strong feelings of helplessness, intense fear and horror.
Many men won't talk about their feelings and they try to bury these traumatic experiences and try to forget about them, hoping that they will go away. As the memories keep resurfacing they struggle to deal with them. These reoccurring memories of their experiences may cause the man to have intense feelings of anger and despair. Men that struggle to deal with these issues without talking to someone can feel very isolated. They may experience mood swings, depression and have difficulties sleeping, eating and concentrating.To cope with how they are feeling some men use negative coping strategies such as using drink and drugs. They use these substances to try and block out their horrible and vivid memories within their minds. Fathers have suffered breakdowns and experienced suicidal thoughts due to events that happened at the birth of their child.
As we know women are treated for PTSD at the birth and rightly so. We must remember that the father/partner is also in the room and they have also experienced a traumatic time.
It is important to encourage men, the father or the partner to speak about how they felt at the birth. Many men don't talk about this and suffer in silence. Looking back to my own experience, I remember having my first ever panic attack at the birth of my son. I remember feeling very anxious and panicky. I really didn't know what was happening. I was terrified that both my wife and baby could die. The feelings that I felt at the birth of my son still affect me these days. When I think about my wife being pregnant again I have strong feelings of anxiety and panic. I even get anxious when looking at new born babies as it brings back the thoughts and feelings that I had on that day.
There must be a connection between PTSD from the birth and post-natal depression in men, (post-natal depression is depression in the first year after the birth of a child). Men can suffer from post-natal depression as well as women. The impact of PTSD and Post-natal depression on the family unit can be devastating. Many men struggle to hold things together and many families split up. I have met men that are still suffering mentally many years after the birth of their child due to not seeking help at the time.
A final message from me,
It is very important, whether you are a health professional, a family member or just a friend, to look out for the signs that someone may be suffering from PTSD. After someone has experienced a difficult birth of a child please look out for the signs that may indicate that the mum and dad, or both may be suffering from of PTSD. Help needs to be sought immediately to minimise the impact on the family.
Also, if a mum is receiving help and treatment for PTSD after the birth of a child, it is important also to remember that the father may also need help as "Dads Matter Too".