Before becoming a parent to twins, I assumed postnatal depression was a women’s thing. After all, what does the father have to worry about? It’s not like anything physical happens to him.
I realised how misguided this myth was after I found myself trapped in a deep hole, without the ability or desire to look up and see the light.
I wasn’t alone, but I felt it.
It’s standard medical practice in Australia to screen mothers for mental illness, but health professionals routinely overlook fathers who may be struggling too. Up to 10 per cent of dads develop postnatal depression in the year after having a baby, but they often slip through the cracks. Chin up. Soldier on.
The Baby Bubble host Sean Szeps on parenting with postnatal depression. Post continues after audio.
I didn’t say anything about how I was feeling because I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t know what was normal. Having kids is obviously difficult, so maybe it’s “normal” to cry two or three times a day, for four months straight. Not leaving the house for a week is totally fine, right? And mapping out a plan to abandon your family, change your name, and fly to Mexico on a one-way ticket is on every first-time dad’s to-do list. RIGHT?
I can’t speak for everyone who gets hit by depression, but for me it was a cloak of heavy metal, constantly dragging me down. I wasn’t always sad, but I simply couldn’t imagine being happy again. I felt unmoored and alone. I couldn’t conceive of an exit.
I didn’t want to shower or get off the couch. I believed that being afraid was my new way of being. I picked fights with my husband every chance I got. I was, without a hint of exaggeration, in the worst state of my life.
I’m telling you all of this not so you’ll feel bad for me, but because I want you to check in with the fathers in your life.
It’s difficult to get men talking about their feelings. Parenting is complicated and stressful at the best of times, and most men justifiably believe that their emotional state should take a back seat to their wives’. Then they’re pushed back into work pretty quickly after the birth of their children, and the conversation passes them by.
But having a depressed father can have serious implications for infants. These dads are less compassionate, less engaged in playtime, and more prone to violence.
Recent studies highlight that children of depressed fathers who’ve shown signs of depression in the first year have three times the risk of behavioral problems, and twice the risk of mental health problems.
Children are raised and impacted by both parents, not just the mother. If we ignore fathers’ mental health, we’re not just failing them. We’re failing our children.
To hear me talk about my experience with postnatal depression in more detail, listen to Episode 6 of The Baby Bubble with my lovely, supportive co-host, Zoe Marshall.