It didn’t take me long to realise that something wasn’t quite right with my best friend after he became a dad. We’d met up for a long overdue one-to-one catch up in the pub near his house: our first since the birth of his first child.
I looked forward to hearing about his experiences of new fatherhood and how they compared to mine, and the funny anecdotes that come with it. We would, of course, also be covering off other equally important topics of conversation: why the hell Tottenham didn’t sign a single player during the Premier League summer transfer window, and would this, finally, be Liverpool’s year, amongst others.
However, he wasn’t there in the room with me – not really. He might have been physically sat down talking to me, but, knowing him like I do, I could tell something was weighing on his mind and he was just going through the motions. I asked him if everything was ok, as he didn’t seem himself, but he brushed off the comment with a weak smile and a reassurance that he was fine. It was only after some further gentle probing from me that he took a deep, deep breath, before uttering the words: “I’m suffering from postnatal depression.”
Post-baby mental health issues were thrown into the spotlight just the other day, with the news that singer Adele’s best friend, Laura Dockrill, is suffering from postpartum psychosis. Such stories, as sad as they are to hear, are vitally important in order to raise public awareness of real and dangerous conditions, but until just last week I would have ignorantly assumed that they could only apply to women. How could men possibly be affected? After all, their hormones aren’t all up in the air like women’s are, since they’re not the ones who physically gave birth, right? Up until he became a dad, my friend thought like this too, despite the fact that a study by the Fatherhood Institute shows that postnatal depression affects, on average, one in 10 new fathers.
The first time my friend said he realised that something was amiss was with his reaction to being handed his son in the maternity room, moments after he was born. He had waited nine long months for this special moment to come round - a mixture of apprehension for the unknown and pure, unbridled excitement at bringing his own flesh and blood into the world - but when it actually arrived, he felt numb. He said he expected to be a blubbering, emotional mess holding his baby in his arms for the first time, and to feel that instant ‘rush’ of love that so many parents talk about when they first glance upon their child. Instead, he just wanted to put his son down as soon as possible.
Since then, he said his symptoms have ranged from a general feeling of extreme lethargy and tiredness at the milder end of the spectrum, with thoughts of wanting to give up his job, through to prolonged bouts of not eating, uncontrolled crying, strong self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy. There have also been, in a couple of particularly dark moments, thoughts of suicide. For someone who I’ve always known as a well-adjusted, happy-go-lucky character, this was particularly shocking and upsetting to hear. Perhaps the hardest thing to deal with though, he said, is the guilt of going through all this at a time when his partner needs his support the most.
It was after finally visiting his GP two months ago that he was able to put a label on what he’d been going through. He was pleasantly surprised that the doctor took his symptoms and concerns seriously, and after asking a whole series of questions during an extended appointment, she was able to advise that conditions such as postnatal depression often manifest themselves off the back of other, unresolved and underlying depressions. My friend said that, in his case, this could be feelings to do with the death of his mother five years ago, something that he never sought professional help for, and tried, in his own words, to simply “block out”.
He has since, as of three weeks ago, starting undergoing weekly Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) on the NHS, whilst he has also found great comfort, information and an avenue of support in the incredibly informative NCT website.
It’s still, potentially, early days for him. He is aware that his condition could yet get worse before it gets better. The important thing is that men like him, just as much as the mothers of their children, know that there is help out there for them and that they don’t have to suffer alone. When it comes to mental health, “manning up” and ignoring the issue is never the answer.