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.
It’s common for women to be treated for PTSD at the birth, and rightly so. We must remember, though, that a traumatic birth can be a horrific experience for the father observing it too. The feelings of helplessness, intense fear and horror stayed with me long after the birth.
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. I was later to find out, in 2013, that I would have been diagnosed with PTSD at the birth today. The nightmares and anxiety after the labour were horrible.
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 even 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. They can feel very isolated, unless they talk to someone. They may experience mood swings, depression and have difficulty sleeping, eating and concentrating. Some turn to coping strategies, such as drink or drugs, to try and block out the 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. You only have to visit birth trauma sites to see how bad things can get.
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. I suffered in silence for years, and only when I had a breakdown in 2011, did I seek help. It was the first step on my road to recovery.
I am still under mental health services and was diagnosed with ADHD two days before my 41st birthday. It's something that I've had all my life and can cause depression, anxiety, tick disorder, OCD and other issues. I suffered a lot in my life and didn't know why I felt different to my friends.
In the last five years, I have turned a negative into a positive. I have campaigned for awareness on national television and radio. My second book is coming out this year. I was named Inspirational Father of the Year and Local Hero at the Pride of Britain Awards. I've spoke at nearly 100 conferences and work as a trainer for my company. I have written in magazines and professional publications about perinatal mental health and this year I'm travelling around Australia, New Zealand, U.S. and Canada speaking and doing workshops.
I am also proud to have helped many dads and families along the way. I am campaigning to make sure dads and mums don't go through this illness with no support. I also was shortlisted at the Mind Media awards in 2012 for my support group Father's Reaching Out. Trust me, sharing a story helps others. If I hadn't had got the help, I daren't think what would have happened to me.
Do me one thing today, if you need it, go get the help you need and talk about it. You can share your story on Men Tell Health, just like I have. Remember the quicker the help, the quicker the recovery.
Wow. What a story, made all the more incredible because it's true. It's true for Mark and for many, many men around the world. We thank him for sharing his tale with us. Have you been affected by PTSD and / or post-natal depression; either as a Dad directly or through caring for your wife or girlfriend. How did you cope? What helped you get through? Let us know in the comments below.
If you need help and want to take Mark's advice (and you should), you can find out more at his website at www.reachingoutpmh.co.uk. You can also keep in touch with Mark on Twitter, where he's @MarkWilliamsROW