When Wilfred Zee’s first son was born, Wilfred’s wife suffered severe injuries during delivery which had her confined to a walker for two months. The physical and emotional toll caused her mental health to deteriorate rapidly. She was soon diagnosed with postnatal depression. Early parenthood was a difficult and stressful time for them both, as they cared for their little one while she also received treatment for her illness.
Times were so tough that when Wilfred learned that his wife was once again pregnant it came as a shock. They found out just as they seemed on the cusp of getting on top of their difficulties. The news, normally greeted with such excitement, brought home to him the reality that they might be facing more difficult times ahead as parents.
“I became really anxious about everything and it just got worse after he was born,” he says. “I would be unreasonably stressed and worried about simple things, as well as being easily distracted and losing concentration.”
Wilfred had developed perinatal anxiety, a serious and common illness that affects up to one in ten expecting or new dads. It can have a devastating impact on expecting and new dads and their families.
Many people are surprised to learn how common perinatal anxiety and depression is for men. Men from all walks of life and all cultures can experience anxiety or depression as part of becoming a parent. It can even affect men who had been previously assured and had high self-esteem.
The trouble is, new and expecting dads are often not the best at seeking help for themselves if they’re struggling. They often feel the pressure of living up to society’s expectations that they should be able to hold themselves together. They bury deep down any feelings they may themselves have of fear, sadness or confusion.
They try to be the rock of the family in order to support their partner and new baby.
One of the things we hear a lot from dads on PANDA’s Helpline is that dads who are struggling with feelings of anxiety and depression often feel reluctant to make what they’re feeling a priority. They feel guilty about their feelings when their partner has been through the physical process of pregnancy and giving birth.
This is what happened with Wilfred. He found it difficult to speak to his wife about it – especially as she was going through so much herself. But once he spoke honestly about the difficulties he was facing, they both felt better placed to walk the road to recovery together.
Wilfred discovered an online questionnaire related to mental health and filled it out. It suggested he might have postnatal depression. He sought advice from his GP who put him on a mental health plan which enabled him to see a counsellor.
This Father’s Day, Wilfred’s family is much happier and ready to celebrate joyfully. His story is a reminder that while many of us in the community know that mums can suffer through perinatal anxiety and depression, we shouldn’t forget that dads can be affected too.
So keep your eye out for that expecting or new dad you know. This Father’s Day, why not check in on him and really see how he’s doing? And if he’s struggling with his feelings, encourage him to seek help by speaking to someone he trusts, a health professional or PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline. If he has any concerns that asking for help on his own behalf means he is being selfish or weak, tell him that seeking help is the very best thing for his family.
It’s much better for everyone than trying to be ‘the rock’ and allowing things to get worse.
PANDA National Helpline 1300 726 306 Monday–Friday 9am–7.30pm AEST/AEDT