Beyond Blue explain how to spot signs of depression and how you can talk to your kids about mental health.
AS a father of six weeks, Jonathan Miles looked at his son in his wife’s arms and told her he wanted out.
The new dad, who had been so excited about having a baby, was now convinced the two most important people in his life would be happier without him.
“It’s probably the closest to suicide I’ve ever been,” he told news.com.au. “To actually turn to my wife when she’s holding our newborn baby and say I was a burden, when obviously that was not the case, it was a low point.”
Jon, from Caversham in WA, had post-natal depression, but he had no idea that happened to fathers, and certainly not him.
“I was a typical bull in a china shop guy, loved sport,” said the 31-year-old. “Admitting any weakness with your mental health isn’t easy. The natural assumption is that depression would be in the mother, she’s been through childbirth, breastfeeding, staying up all night.”
But on that day, when he shared his deepest thoughts with wife Melissah, also 31, there was no denying the truth any more. “I said to my wife they’d be better off without me.
“She said, ‘Don’t you dare leave me.’”
Jonathan says that was when “the penny dropped” that it made no sense for him to feel that way.
The 31-year-old, who had suffered with bouts of depression since the age of 21, went to his GP that same day, changed his medication and began working towards improving his mental health.
“During my wife’s pregnancy I was in a good space, handling the pressures and looking forward to it. Then Callum was born and there was the honeymoon period when I was fine, for the first two to three weeks. Once that was over, I went downhill pretty quickly in terms of stress, anxiety, drinking too much. I wasn’t functioning correctly.
“I started to have doubts about how good a father I was and whether I was a burden on my family. I lost the structure to my day. I struggled with looking after the baby, the fatigue. I started to feel I was getting in the way, it was something I made up in my mind.”
Once Jonathan saw a doctor, cut back on alcohol and began accepting help from family and friends, things started to improve. Callum is now three and the couple have a one-year-old son called Oliver.
“Once you’ve been through it once you’ve got experience you can fall back on,” he said. “It gives you a whole new perspective.
“My battle with depression will go on for life, I’m still vulnerable to feelings of self doubt. But with my second son, I was better prepared, I know the warning signs and certain avenues not to go down.”
The health and safety worker took several months off work the second time, which he said was incredibly valuable, and made an effort to embrace the help of loved ones and give himself a chance.
“I went in hopeful I would be a great first-time dad, but there will be mistakes,” he said. “You probably go in with false expectations. You’re going to be tired, remember it doesn’t last forever and there’s so much good that comes out of it.”
While we don’t hear much about it, around one in seven fathers deal with psychological distress when they are new dads and one in ten suffers with post-natal depression. First time fatherhood is in fact one of the biggest risk periods for men when it comes to mental health.
Beyond Blue project manager Luke Martin told news.com.au that clinicians look for how men are coping with daily life, their ability to go to work and look after their new baby, and their tendency to self-criticism.
“I think because it’s so important to support mums and that’s been a priority, as it should, dads have not been in the picture. Modern dads don’t want to be on the sideline. We did research that showed the new dad wants to be involved and the provider. There’s a growing sense of pressure to meet responsibilities at home and at work.”
There are few differences in post-natal depression in dads and mum, according to Dr Martin, although men can often appear more irritable and angry or use avoidance mechanism such as alcohol and drugs.
He says friends and family members should watch out for new fathers, and notice if they are withdrawing from relationships or not enjoying the experience of being a parent. In most cases, talking therapy and lifestyle changes — exercise, diet and sleep — solve the issue. Others may need medication.
“There’s a better understanding that becoming a parent is hard for mums,” said Dr Martin. “We need a better understanding of men.”
The University of Newcastle and Movember foundation recently teamed up to create SMS4dads, a lighthearted service that provides tips and advice for new dads, who typically don’t read as much as women about what being a parent involves, or discuss it with friends.”
The world-first concept also allows fathers to record their mood, and those who consistently feel low receive a phone call from a professional and additional support.
Most men typically don’t seek help. That needs to change.
If you need help visit beyondblue.org.au or call 1300 22 4636. Sign up for the new dads text messaging service at SMS4dads.com.