RCPsych Wales - Mark Williams, A Father's Mental Health
07 October, 2019
In 2004, I suffered my first ever panic attack at thirty years of age and I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me. It was the day my son was born. My wife Michelle was taken to theatre for an emergency C-section and I honestly thought she was going to die. I was terrified.
During this period, I experienced nightmares about Michelle and Ethan dying in the theatre. I would wake up thinking it was real. Sadly, Michelle went on to develop severe postnatal depression and my world changed forever.
I had never known anyone with the illness. I was so uneducated about mental health I used to wonder: ‘how can people be depressed?’. Within weeks of Michelle’s diagnosis, I had to give up my job to care for Michelle and Ethan. I had loved the social side of my job and I was totally isolated. Sometimes I wouldn’t get out the front door for days. Within months, my personality changed and I was drinking in an attempt to cope.
I became angry. It got to the point where, if I did manage to get out with friends, I wanted to fight the doorman. I had this strange need to get hurt to try and stop what I was feeling and the thoughts that were going through my head. It was another way of self-harming.
I began to have uncontrollable suicidal thoughts but never acted on them.
At the time, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. I was raised in a working-class community where my father and grandfather were coal miners. Growing up, we looked up to ‘hard men’ who didn’t show their emotions and now I was feeling emotional – and I was feeling weak. I kept telling myself I just had to ‘man up’ and everything would be okay.
Over five years of suffering in silence since my son was born, and after losing my grandfather and my mother getting diagnosed with cancer within weeks apart, my mental health got worse.
One day, whilst sitting in my car before walking into work, I had a complete breakdown, or breakthrough I tend to call it. I just literally couldn’t get out the car, I was shaking, crying and suicidal thoughts were racing through my mind.
After going through community mental health teams, I was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
It was after speaking to a guy in the gym, 6 weeks while on leave from work, that I learned that he too had suffered and was never asked about his mental health.
It was the start of the campaign and today I have turned a negative time into a positive one by setting up International Father's Mental Health Day, the hashtag #Howareyoudad and a database of information on the latest research and support. I have spoken on television and radio stations around the world and have been awarded several awards for my work. I was proud to have met the royal family in 2016 on World Mental Health Day.
Today I'm a keynote speaker and author with many articles published in journals with my mentor Dr. Jane Hanley. With one-in-ten dad's suffering postnatal depression and up to fifty percent suffering depression looking after their partners we need to support everyone.
My campaign has always been supporting all parents for their mental health has it has far better outcomes for everyone when you use a holistic approach. Sadly no one was talking about the father's mental health in 2011 so I decided to make the voice of dad's known to services.