First, let’s get this straight. I love my daughter more than anything in the world. I have two sons and so I revel in the fact I can tell her she is my ‘favourite little girl’ and not feel bad that I am being unfair. So why, when she was a tiny, cute little baby, did I find myself rocking her far harder than was necessary, sat on a fitball with my earphones in, listening to dance music at full volume to drown out her cries?
Five years on, I look back and recognise in myself the symptoms of depression – indeed, so did the doctor – and conclude that a large part of this was having a new-born; I had post-natal depression.
According to Elisa Psouni, from the department of psychology at Lund University in Sweden, post-natal depression in men has been somewhat underestimated. By recognising how men’s depression manifests itself – with symptoms such as agitation, anger, irritability, working longer hours and drinking too much – she posits that levels of post-natal depression in men are much higher than previously thought. (Ssee https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/13/can-men-get-postnatal-depression).
I will leave the data-crunching to the research professionals, but I know how I felt.
Never mind how many people told me how lucky I was to have a ‘pigeon-pair’ of gorgeous children, or how beautiful my baby girl was, I could not get beyond the feelings of a lack of self-worth, a sense that I was letting everyone down at work and at home and so a vicious cycle took hold.
My children had impeccable timing: my first arrived on the day all the boarders arrived back from half term, to be welcomed by a shut door and drawn curtains. My daughter arrived in the midst of a term in which the Head was away on sabbatical, I was standing in for the Deputy Head, and the inspectors had just called to say we had a week to prepare. It turned out I was in charge of the e-safety policy after all (had I ever even read it, let alone know how to find it on the school database?)
The combination of inspection pressure and a lack of sleep were no doubt telling factors in my growing anxiety. I also believe that, for me at least, the second child meant that whatever independence I had left in my life after number one was now firmly out of the window, meaning a total rethink of who I thought I was in the face of what seemed overwhelming responsibility.
It is important to state at this point that in no way do I feel that my struggles, which ended up lasting about six months, were the same as those suffered by mums who bear the brunt of the demands – psychological and physical – of childbirth. I can only take my hat off to the millions of mothers who deal with a frankly almost impossible task with unbelievable stoicism. However, I do worry for the men who feel that they can’t voice their own worries for fear of being seen to be insensitive, or overplaying what may seem to some to be trivial.
Let’s not ignore the voices of the men. It’s not the same, but men do have feelings and often do not know how to express or deal with them. For me, I was glad of someone to listen, and the legitimacy I felt when the doctor told me I should start medication was enough for me to start working through the fog and sharing my situation with those close to me.
I am now glad that I dipped into this rather dark and scary zone (easy to say, having found a way out). It gave me some much-needed empathy and since that time, I have always taken mental health seriously. I know that I let some people down before this by not recognising what was happening for them, or not understanding that staying in bed in darkened rooms was not teenage laziness but a pathological problem.
I hope that we can now recognise post-natal depression in men for what it is, and give it the credibility it needs so that our dads can get the support they need to look after their partners, and their little ones.