When we think about men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we automatically think of those that have fought in a war, or are associated with the armed forces. A surprising number of men, however, suffer PTSD after witnessing the birth of their child.
Looking back to my own experience, the feelings that I experienced at the birth of my son still affect me today. When I think about my wife being pregnant again I have strong feelings of anxiety. I even get anxious when looking at newborn babies as it brings back the panic that I had on that day.
The feelings that I felt at the birth of my son still affect me today.
This is why I founded Dads Matter UK (www.dadsmatteruk.org), a charity to support and raise awareness for dads with anxiety, depression and PTSD, during and after birth.
It’s common for women to be treated for PTSD at the birth and rightly so. We must remember, though, that a traumatic birth is a horrific experience for the father observing it, too. I remember having my first ever panic attack at the birth of my son. I really didn’t know what was happening. I was terrified that both my wife and baby could die.
We must remember that a traumatic birth is a horrific experience for the father observing it, too.
The feelings of helplessness, intense fear and horror stayed with me long after the birth.
Men suffering PTSD can experience suicidal thoughts and sink into a deep depression. They may suffer repeated flashbacks of the birth, reliving the fear and panic they felt. They may experience a breakdown.
Often they won’t talk about their feelings and they try to bury them, hoping that they will go away. As the memories keep resurfacing they struggle to deal with them, leading to intense feelings of anger and despair.
Unless they talk to someone, they can feel very isolated. They may experience mood swings, depression and have difficulties sleeping, eating and concentrating, some turn to coping strategies such as drink drugs to try and block out their horrible and vivid memories within their minds.
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.
It is important to encourage them not to suffer in silence, to speak about how they felt at the birth. Whether you are a health professional, a family member or just a friend, look out for the signs that a new father may be suffering from PTSD.
Dads and postnatal depression: what to do
1. Ask questions if you are unhappy about something and it’s worrying you.
2. Don’t suffer in silence, the quicker the help the quicker the recovery.
3. Educate yourself about perinatal mental health, sometimes you may not know what it is
4. Talk to people, Trust me it better to talk than the events to manifest to crisis point.
5. Ask the professional what they mean as it can bring on anxiety if your unsure and worried about family members.
Mark Williams is founder of Dads Matter UK (www.dadsmatteruk.org), a charity that aims to support and raise awareness for dads with anxiety, depression and PTSD during and after birth. He was also a speaker at The Baby Show at Olympia on a new panel entitled ‘Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster: What all parents should know about the baby blues and Postnatal Depression’ – www.thebabyshow.co.uk.