Fathers’ Mental Health campaigner Mark Williams has a lived experience of PND in dads. These are the crucial points from his keynote speech at DadCon 2019.
(Trigger warning: this piece references suicide)
According Mark Williams, he is “just a guy from the Valleys, who made some changes”. According to those in the know, the Welshman is the UK’s foremost expert on PND in dads. Hold on. Did you just say PND in dads? As in dads suffering from postnatal depression? Is that really a thing? Yes, it is.
“One in 10 dads suffer from PND – that’s 75,000 men in the UK alone,” revealed Williams during his harrowing and inspirational keynote speech at The Dadsnet’s DadCon 2019.
Men’s Mental Health Check
After highlighting the statistics, Williams went on to recount his personal story of postnatal depression, which began on the day his son was born, ended when he sought help after having a complete breakdown and prompted him to begin campaigning for improved awareness and education around fatherhood and mental health.
So, how is this campaigning going? Pretty well (he has set up Fathers Reaching Out, been named Inspirational Father of the Year at the Pride of Britain awards, written Daddy Blues: Postnatal Depression and Fatherhood* and founded International Fathers’ Mental Health Day), but there is still a lot more to do, which is why Williams wanted to speak at DadCon 2019, and I want to publish seven of the most important things he said.
Are you ready for them? Great, then here goes…
1. “I have never felt lonelier than I did during my first year as a dad.”
Despite having plenty of friends, Williams revealed that he felt extremely isolated in the months after his son’s birth. And do you know what? He’s not the only new dad to feel like this. I’ve written about missing my old friends and struggling to find new ‘dad mates’, and Movember’s recent Fatherhood and Social Connections paper discovered that 23% of dads experienced feelings of isolation when they first became a father.
2. “I couldn’t tell my wife, because I didn’t want to impact her mental health.”
Shortly after the birth of their son, Williams’ wife was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression. It took 18 months for her to begin to feel better, and during this time Williams started to face mental challenges of his own. Sadly, this is not uncommon, as research shows that 24%-50% of fathers with depressed partners experience depression themselves. Even more upsettingly, lots of these dads are doing the same thing that Williams did. Which is: suffering in silence due to the mistaken belief that admitting they have an issue will hinder their partner’s recovery.
3. “I felt useless, I felt out of control.”
One of the toughest things about PND in dads, and mental health in general, is that it is an invisible, internal struggle. Mark revealed that there were times when, from the outside, he appeared to smiling and drinking with friends. Inside, however, he was battling a dangerous monologue that insisted he was useless and completely out of control.
4. “There are over half a million male suicides globally each year.”
When he was at his lowest ebb, Williams had suicidal thoughts “racing through his mind”. Happily, he sought help. Unhappily, lots of men don’t. Globally, over 500,000 men take their lives each year, and suicide is currently the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.
Important point: if you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek help. Organisations like The Samaritans are waiting for your call.
5. “If a dad’s personality changes during the antenatal or postnatal period, we need to help him, not judge him.”
When it comes to friendships, men are not particularly great at accepting change, be that when our mate gets a new girlfriend or boyfriend (“ugh, he’s so under the thumb”), our pal moves in with his partner (“pfft, he never comes out anymore”) or our friend has a kid and begins to act a bit differently (“boy, he’s changed”).
The good news is that we always get this topic out in the open by chatting to our friend about the reasons for their social, life or personality shift. The bad news is that the previous sentence was a load of old codswallop. In reality, we grumble about the individual to the rest of our friendship group, but never say anything to them. And as for contemplating that the alteration could actually be down to a deeper issue? Yeah, right. This isn’t healthy, and, quite rightly, Williams wants it to change.
6. “That is why The Dadsnet is such a great platform.”
There are a number of reasons why Williams is correct to praise The Dadsnet (e.g. it organises DadCon and helps you find other dads in your local area). But, from a mental health perspective, perhaps the most important resource it provides is The Dadsnet Closed Facebook Group. This page has over 14,000 members. All of the members are dads, and all of us are there to help each other out.
So, if you’re struggling to open up to your close friends, head to the page, write a post (note: if you would prefer not to publish your name, you can ask the admins to post anonymously on your behalf) and prepare to feel the support of this fantastic dad community.
7. “Don’t suffer in silence, like I did. The quicker you ask for help, the quicker you will get it.”
Lots of experts finish talks by instructing people to “do what they did”. Williams did the opposite. He rounded things off with the above plea, stating that if he had been diagnosed sooner he could have managed his condition better.
Until next time…
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