'It's OK not to be OK': Fathers reveal their experience of postnatal depression

By Davina Fenton and Natalia Jorquera

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, ITV News is highlighting issues or conditions often under-represented in terms of awareness as well as looking at positive and therapeutic initiatives helping people with their mental health recovery.

While for many the birth of a child is a joyous experience which leaves parents in a bubble of contentment, for some the new arrival can trigger postnatal depression (PND).

It's commonly associated with mothers, usually within a year of giving birth, but there is much less awareness that 1 in 10 men are estimated to experience it as well.

"'Men can get it too?"

"How's that's that possible?"

"But it's hormonal,"... these are just some of the responses recently heard.

This may in part be due to a lack of knowledge and ability to recognise signs and symptoms of the condition.

There can also sometimes be a reluctance by men to admit there is an issue due to stigma, fear of embarrassment and a perceived need for them to "man up".

What are the signs and symptoms of PND?

Although many new parents experience mood changes or "baby blues" from time to time, in the case of postnatal depression, feelings of sadness or anxiety persist.

  • Symptoms can include: A sense of inadequacy or inability to cope, difficulty bonding with your baby, fatigue, panicked thoughts, a lack of interest or pleasure, problems concentrating and making decisions.

In severe cases, some people can experience obsessive fears and suicidal thoughts.

Find out more about symptoms of postnatal depression

How do men get post natal depression?

It's a common misconception that it's exclusive to women and hormones are chiefly to blame for the onset of PND, there can be many contributing factors.

Parenthood is like a rollercoaster ride. Reaching dizzying heights of hopes and fears, and dips in the form of upheaval, extra responsibility, sleep deprivation, changes to relationship dynamics, which applies to both mums and dads.

It can also be stressful and at times isolating.

Past mental health problems, witnessing a traumatic birth, or having a partner with depression can also be a contributing factors.

  • Tony's story: 'I felt like I was failing in my role'

Tony Crone experienced postnatal depression after his wife Melissa gave birth to their first child in June 2013.

The 25-year-old, from Liverpool, told ITV News at first he was overwhelmed with feelings of "pride and joy" after his daughter Elizabeth's arrival.

But things began to change three or four weeks later when he had returned to work.

"When I went home because Mel was breastfeeding, especially during the night, she'd wake up and do everything else. When I tried to hold Elizabeth, or play with her, she'd push away from me."

"She and Mel seemed to have this bond I just couldn't get, no matter what I did."

Tony Crone became severely depressed after his daughter's birth. Credit: Tony Crone

In February 2014, eight months after Elizabeth's birth, Tony began to feel suicidal.

But it was an intervention by an off-duty police officer, who stopped the new father at his 'lowest point' as he walked along train tracks, that signalled a turning point.

"He asked me what was wrong and I explained it to him that I thought I had PND and he listened to me.

He didn't patronise me, didn't make me feel like I was just being jealous, or just having baby blues," Tony said.

Soon after he also experienced a breakthrough moment with his baby daughter.

The family began to research methods that help mothers bond with their child and applied them to Tony's situation.

"It was a lot of skin to skin stuff, so there was a lot of me just sitting there with Elizabeth, luckily it was a really warm summer!” Tony said.

Regular swimming sessions together also helped father and daughter bond to develop over time.

Tony and Elizabeth have now developed a strong and loving bond.

With the arrival of the couple's second child in 2015, Tony's depression returned but it was not as severe.

"I didn't get as bad PND with Andrew because I had Elizabeth. When I had those moments of feeling he doesn't need me Elizabeth was there. "

Elizabeth holding her baby brother. Credit: Tony Crone

Tony has started a blog about his experience and hopes it will resonate with other fathers with PND.

He would also like to see more support made available for fathers, describing himself as 'this Dad in the corner' at one group predominately attended by mothers.

  • Steve's story: 'I felt immense relief having gotten it off my chest'

Steve Aguirre initially attributed his low mood after the birth of his daughter to lack of sleep.

It wasn't until he came across an article on a dads blog about PND, when his daughter was around five months old, that he realised "something was wrong" after recognising the parallels to his own experience.

"After I finished reading it I was crying my eyes out. It was mind-blowing," Steve told ITV News.

Steve Aguirre realised he might have postnatal depression after reading an online article. Credit: Steve Aguirre

Steve then carried out numerous internet searches to find more information about the condition. He later had "the conversation" with his wife after she broached the issue after seeing what he had been looking up.

"Afterwards I felt immense relief having gotten it off my chest," he said.

Though hesitant, following encouragement from his wife, Steve visited his GP. With treatment, as the time progressed 'I felt better and better,'" he said.

Steve's daughter is now 2.5 years old, and the family has expanded with the arrival of his four-month-old son.

Steve pictured with his daughter and baby son. Credit: Steve Aguirre

Steve also believes that men do not always help themselves when it comes to addressing the issue of postnatal depression.

"We as men are partly to blame, with ‘I’m strong' and that sort of nonsense."

"Be honest with yourself and go get help, talk to somebody you trust. Doing nothing it probably the worst thing you can do," he added.

  • Mark's story: 'I just wanted my wife to be well'

Some research has found that new fathers with partners suffering from postnatal depression are likely to become depressed themselves.

Mark Williams suffered postnatal depression for six years after the birth of his son, Ethan, in 2004.

Witnessing his son's traumatic birth, Mark had experienced his first ever panic attack.

"When my son was born, I didn’t get an overwhelming feeling of love," Mark admitted.

Soon afterwards his wife developed severe post-natal depression.

Several months later, as Mark struggled to cope with the pressures of looking after his wife and a new baby as well as financial responsibilities, he also began to feel helpless and depressed.

Mark Williams struggled with depression after the birth of his son.

Due to a lack of awareness, Mark failed to realise he had PND and also felt unable to confide in his friends and family.

"I couldn't tell anyone. I just wanted my wife to be well, I didn’t care about myself, " he said.

"I couldn’t tell my friends how I was feeling. I didn’t know what depression was, so how were they going to understand?"

At its worse he developed "agonising" suicidal thoughts.

But treatment and counselling Mark gained coping and mindfulness skills which helped him combat his depression.

In 2011, Mark founded Fathers Reaching Out to raise awareness of perinatal mental health and campaigns for better support for fathers.

"The quicker fathers receive the help, the quicker the recovery," he told ITV News.

Mark also believes a "more family based approach" is needed to help both mother and fathers.

It was one of the issues he raised at a recent "ground-breaking" meeting at Westminster for fathers dealing with postnatal depression.

There were calls for early screening and better early prevention for all parents, at the meeting organised by Stoke councillor Lloyd Brown, who himself has suffered from the condition.

Mark hailed it as "a first step in making change for fathers".

Mark Williams with his wife Michelle and their son Ethan. Credit: Mark Williams

What can you do if you think you have postnatal depression?

  • Confide in people you trust and feel comfortable with , for example, a partner, family or friends, or a health professional

  • Seek help from your GP who can help you to access to support services

  • You may also find it useful to search the internet for online forums, national or local support organisations or Dads groups.

  • Try to take some time out for yourself and engage in hobbies, exercise, or social activities which can have positive effect on mood and sense of wellbeing.

  • If you have issues bonding with your baby, the NCT suggests that if you can spend time doing simple things like changing their nappy, bathing them or just playing, as this might help you feel closer to them.

  • NCT: 'We hope dads feel increasingly able to speak up'

Dr Sarah McMullen, Head of Knowledge, NCT, said: “Becoming a parent can be challenging and it can affect dads’ mental health.

It doesn’t help matters that some men are told they should bottle it up and tough it out.

“We hope dads feel increasingly able to speak up if they are worried about their mental health as this can often be the first step to getting support. "

Who can I contact for help or guidance?

Various support and guidance is available from charities or organisations such as:

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website