PND and fatherhood – seven tips for dads

Continuing the mental health month theme on my blog, this post highlights the devastation that PND can wreak upon a family. But it is also an optimistic post as it provides a chink of light by proposing seven key tips for dads whose partners are suffering from PND.

________________________________________________

Two months after our second child was born, my wife was diagnosed with post-natal depression. 

We already had an elder child who was 7.5 years old when her brother was born.  After my wife was diagnosed she seemed to rapidly go downhill in the space of three weeks such that she eventually ended up in a mother-and-baby unit which was over 100 miles away from home. 

I became a single parent looking after my daughter whilst my wife and son were in hospital.  After three months she was moved to a mother-and-baby unit nearer home but she was there for three days before she refused to go back to the unit on a home visit. 

The next day she went out for a walk and ultimately took an overdose at a nearby hotel. 

I will never forget having the police in my house in the middle of the night whilst I had to get friends to look after my children.  

My wife subsequently needed further treatment at a psychiatric hospital, then moved with my son to her parents for six months, who live over 300 miles away, and got far better treatment than provided by my local area of the NHS. 

Our relationship has now broken down. 

The points below are completely from my point of view and I hope they help you if your partner is suffering from PND:

1.            Take all the offers of help you need:   The number of people who offered me help from doing some hovering to looking after my daughter when I need to go somewhere on my own was at times overwhelming but so gratefully received.  I only ever needed to take up a small proportion of those offers but always did so when I needed to.  If you need help and have been offered it then there is no shame in taking it and people will be grateful that they can help.  If you do need help then ask from family, friends or neighbours – people will always be there if you need them.

2.            Look after yourself:  During the period of my wife’s PND I twice had periods of a couple of weeks where it felt like I could literally not stop crying (luckily I have my own office at work).  I was able to get carer’s support from my local health authority which for me was an individual who I could talk to every couple of weeks and who was not emotionally involved in my situation and who provided great support when I needed it.  If you do feel that you are not coping then try and talk to someone, and if you need more professional help, then try and get that help.  I was ultimately referred me for counselling with a local charity which helped me try and understand what had happened.

In my experience, my wife’s personality completely changed when she was very ill and it can be very hard to experience that change in someone you love all day, every day.  If you need to, try and give yourself a break even if that means going to the shops for 20 minutes and getting out the house.

3.            Try and find out as much as you can:  A local support group would have been fantastic but without one I had to try and found out as much information as I could about PND from the internet and other individuals who had been in the same situation as me.  Obtain as much information as you need so that you can understand some more about what is going on and why your partner is ill.  My only note of caution would be is to recognise that unless you have been through depression before, it is very difficult to understand what you partner is feeling and why she is feeling it, and that there is only so much you can also know and understand.

4.            Kick up a fuss so you know what is going on:  In hindsight, I did not know enough about my wife’s treatment or her medication, why some things worked and others did not.  I wish I had asked more questions of her doctors and the seemingly endless number of individuals who kept coming to see her when she was at home.  I was constantly told that ‘most of the recovery will be at home’.  I have had no experience of mental illness and wish now that I had known what to ask the people who were treating her and not just accepted what they said and why they said it.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the nurses and doctors treating your partner to ensure you are satisfied with what they are doing and why they are doing it.  My wife got treatment to help her bond with our son at her parent’s local hospital which made some difference to her starting to recover; ask the people treating your partner whether there are these types of treatments which could help your partner as well.

If for some reason you consider one of the individuals treating your partner is not helping then try and get that changed.  My wife’s Community Mental Health Nurse would get cross with her when she forgot things but she forgot things because of the depression not because she was not listening.  We were ultimately overtaken by events but she wanted to change her CMN because she did not think the original individual was doing her any good.

5.            Don’t try and fix the illness:  I constantly made suggestions to my wife about things she could do (go for a walk, got to playgroups to meet other mums, sleep when he is asleep, the list is almost endless) that I believed would help her.  They would not necessarily cure her and most parents have probably heard them all before but I had an almost overwhelming need to suggest all these things as I thought they would help.  Ultimately my wife’s depression was so severe that it was a struggle for her to just get out of the bed and get through the day and so she was not capable of doing the things I was suggesting.  Try and accept that your partner may not be able to do everything that everyone, including the healthcare professionals, says she should do and don’t get upset or angry if she does not seem to be helping herself.  It is the effect the illness is having on her.

6.            Try and appreciate the positive moments:  My wife had a very positive few days at home half way through her time at her first hospital and there was optimistic comments about her being discharged after this home visit.  However, as soon as she returned to the hospital she became more depressed and things took a turn for the worse after that.  However, those positive few days were something that could be hung onto as an indication that in the future she could get better.  Some of her weekend home visits were awful and it seemed like there was no end in sight but sometimes, even only for a few hours, she was back to what she was like before the illness started.  Try and see the good times as positive moments but understand that sometimes they may only be temporary.

7.            She will get better:  Every individual who takes their life because of PND is a devastating tragedy for everybody involved.  However, in nearly all cases (I don’t know the exact numbers, I am not sure anyone does) the person suffering from this dreadful illness will get better.  It will be hard to believe this at times but hopefully for you it will be true.

 

(NB The author of this post has requested to remain anonymous)

Advertisements

Time flies

WordPress informed me this week that my blog has just turned one.

It took me by surprise to be honest. How time flies.

Sometime back in February 2013, as a stressted out, burnt out father of two under-threes, I decided I had two options.

1. Take up writing 

or

2. Develop an alcohol / crack addiction.

I chose writing.

Because frankly, first and foremost, that is what this blog started out as for me.

Therapy.

Cheap therapy.

And over time I have attracted a small but loyal, and very lovely group of readers who have kept me going with their humour, anecdotes and empathy.

I have enjoyed blogging much more than I could ever have imagined and it has opened me up to a great new community of people, with new opportunities and new possibilities. I love it.

Which is why I have decided to celebrate my first birthday by nominating myself for a MAD Blog award. It’s my birthday present to me!

Self nomination is not a very British thing to do, and it is certainly not a very “me” thing to do, but hey, it’s my birthday, so like whatever.

So if you have enjoyed reading anything on my blog over these last twelve months and you so feel inclined, please do nominate me under the “best writing category”.

You can do that by clicking on the “nominate me” badge on my blog page or by clicking the link above and following the instructions – my webpage is https://thesecretfather.wordpress.com

And if not, then no worries, vote for someone else, in one of the many other categories. Competitions like this are all good for the blogging community, of which I am part, so it is a total win-win.

Happy blogging birthday to me!

Men and PND – time to talk

Today 6th February is #timetotalk. For more information check out the time to change website

Over the month of February I am going to feature guest posts from people offering a male perspective on post natal depression (PND), with ideas and advice on support and care.

The idea is to raise awareness and get people talking about PND, particularly men.

Which is why I just had to feature this excellent 18 minute slot on The Last Word, an excellent radio show hosted by Matt Cooper on Today FM in Ireland. 

This programme was shared with me by the lovely people at Nurture.

The programme features two men Ronan Kennedy and Owen McGrath, whose partners have suffered from PND, plus Nurture CEO Irene Lowry.

Ronan and Owen highlight brilliantly why it is so important that men are part of the discussion on PND, and that men who are supporting a partner affected by PND often need support themselves.

Irene provides some insightful context and some interesting statistics that suggest that PND is still very much a taboo issue.

Please grab a coffee, put your headphones on and have a listen

Men and Post Natal Depression (the Last Word, Today FM 28th January 2014)

 

(Nurture is an Irish charity founded by counsellor Irene Lowry and co founder Lilian Mc Gowan. It offers counselling and support surrounding pregnancy and childbirth mental health illnesses & emotional wellbeing. Check them out they are doing great stuff)

Mental health and parenting – some tips for dads

Over February I am running a series of guest posts on Post Natal Depresssion (PND) and Perinatal Mental Health from a male perspective.

The idea for this series of blogs came about from meeting the fabulous Rosey on Twitter (@PNDandMe) during an enlightening Twitter chat on #PNDhour.

It made me realise I know little about mental health issues, and that it might be helpful for other men to have access to information on PND, at the very least to raise awareness.

This first article comes from Kathryn who has first hand experience, and has written this extremely helpful post for partners of people suffering from perinatal mental health.

Kathryn (on Twitter @katgrant30) is married to Tom and mum to James, 15 months.  They live in London with their kitten Cat.  Kathryn tweets about her experience of mental illness and mental health services (as well as her love of all things baking) and has written a blog about her recovery from postpartum psychosis on the Sane charity’s website: http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/blogging/show_blog/592
 
You can find out more about postpartum psychosis at: http://www.app-network.org

++++++++++++++

Whether your other half is pregnant, just given birth, or perhaps running around after an errant toddler, there is one subject many dads would prefer not to think about, but definitely should.

Mental health. 
 
The perinatal (fancy speak for pre and post birth) period is an emotional roller coaster and (unsurprisingly) women are at higher risk of developing mental illness during this time.

The good news is, there’s lots a supportive other half can do to help.  Here are some tips from someone who knows (in no particular order):
 
1. Sleep.  However much your little darling baby wants to feed, make sure you step in at some point in the first few days to let mum sleep.  Whether that means some formula feeding, expressed milk or a few minutes of putting up with a hungry baby – that time for rest is gold dust for mum and nothing else matters.  She may not be able to actually sleep, but at least she might be able to rest her eyes.
 
2. On the subject of sleep, try to keep an eye on any real insomnia developing in your partner – not being able to sleep even while baby is, or nervously waiting for baby to wake up.
 
3. Same goes for decent meals – watch out for any loss of appetite. Labour is a massive deal, and it takes a lot to recover from. So eating well is a must for good health – mental and physical.

4. You know your partner best so are best placed to pick up on any unusual moods.  Be aware though that these can change quickly, and may not present as typical depression symptoms.  Other mental illnesses that can strike include anxiety, or even psychosis – so if your partner has any history of mental health problems, be on the look-out for symptoms such as racing thoughts, mania, paranoia, insomnia as well as feeling down.
 
5. Access practical help from whatever sources are available.  If you have hands-on family who your partner is comfy with then don’t be afraid to utilise them.  Especially if you have to go back to work.  Practical stuff like food shopping, cleaning, laundry etc but also support such as making sure mum and baby get out the house every day, attend appointments, hold the baby while mum showers and field calls from visitors and well-wishers.  If you have the cash, think about hiring a night nanny.

6. Unless there’s a physical reason why they can’t, make sure mum and baby get out the house, every day if possible.  Find out what groups are running in your area (the midwife or health visitor should help here) and encourage your partner to go along.  At the very least, your local children’s centre will run groups for mums and babies.  If she refuses to go out, even if physically well, this is a cause for concern and worth getting to the root of.
 

7. Mums, especially mums who’ve been excitedly planning for this baby for months or years, often have high expectations of how they will parent.  They WILL breast feed for at least six months.  They WILL use Eco nappies.  They’ve read Gina, or the latest attachment parenting manual and they WILL follow it.  Mums who set such high standards for themselves might be in for a rough ride.  PND or other serious mental illness was not part of their plan so as well as the illness itself they also have to deal with a crushing sense of failure.
 
It isn’t always possible to breast feed, however hard you try, and those first few weeks are such a blur you won’t be able to read a sentence let alone a whole book.  Support your partner in her choices, make it clear to her what a great job she is doing – the baby’s alive!  Those baby wipes are not going to burn your baby’s bottom, so stop with the faffy cotton wool and water dance!  The milk’s getting in there so it doesn’t matter where it comes from, it all goes down the same way!   The fact you haven’t hand-washed that new babygro before popping it on him is not going to give him a rash!  This thinking won’t make the PND go away, but having such support may help mum feel less like a “failure” (although be careful not to belittle her genuine concerns, whether warranted or not they are real to her).

8. On this point, keep a weather eye on your partner’s anxieties.  It is completely normal to worry about how much the baby is eating/sleeping/puking/poohing… But there is a fuzzy line somewhere between normal worry and over-anxiety or even paranoia. Support networks from other mums can help here, whether that’s online or through NCT classes or whatever.  It’s also a good idea to develop a good relationship with your health visitor and baby clinic. 

9. Don’t assume that because your baby is approaching toddlerhood that your partner is “out of the woods”.   Also don’t assume that because all seems well on the surface that everything must be ok.  It can take some time for mums to acknowledge the problem and seek help.  You can only encourage and reassure them that all will be ok – help is out there, and it doesn’t mean you have failed!  If you can come along to that all-important GP visit, even better.

10. I can’t think of a 10th tip to make this a nice round number so will just say this – mental illness is perfectly treatable.  The quicker your other half seeks the help she needs, the quicker she will recover – so don’t go along with anyone (your partner or a well meaning friend) saying things like “it’s just the baby blues”, “you’ll feel better once the baby sleeps better”