PARKED in Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square while his wife nipped to the bank and his tiny daughter Freya screamed in the back of the car, new father David Marshall imagined lifting her gently out of her seat and smashing her head on the pavement.
“I thought I’m either going to get out of this car and keep on walking and never come back, or smash her on the ground to stop the crying. I knew I had to get help.”
Marshall’s experience may sound extreme but he’s one of a growing number of men willing to own up to suffering postnatal depression and feelings of abandonment just when they are expected to adjust immediately to the sudden demands of fatherhood. “It was times when I was by myself and she would cry and cry and all I could hear in my head was, ‘Daddy I don’t like you.’
“I started thinking when I was bathing her, I could just put my hand on her head, hold her under the water and stop her crying. I was aware that it’s wrong but these thoughts went on for about five or six weeks before I said anything to anyone. You can’t express them. Imagine telling your wife you want to kill your child.”
But Marshall did tell his wife, as soon as she got back in the car. “The 15-minute journey home was certainly interesting, but she never raised her voice or went crazy, which she had every right to do. She was terribly shocked, but we spoke about it. I felt the lowest of the low,” he says.
Fortunately the Marshalls were expecting a health visitor the next day and David was advised to get help immediately from his GP. He was sent for counselling with the Church of Scotland charity CrossReach, which runs postnatal depression services.
After months of talk therapy and a course of anti-depressants, Marshall is now fully recovered and is evangelical about speaking out on the subject of postnatal depression among men. He has appeared on ITV’s This Morning and tries to get as much media exposure as possible in a bid to get help for others. “Obviously there are a lot of dads out there who have the thoughts I did. I went for counselling and thought it would take a few weeks. Eighteen months later, I was still there. I would recommend it to everyone,” says Marshall.
Statistics would back up the incidence of postnatal depression among men, with as many as one in ten being affected, compared to one in six women, according to Postnatal Depression Services Lothian. Symptoms include tiredness, mood swings, panic attacks, tearfulness, social withdrawal, lack of interest or enjoyment in the baby, through to despair and hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and thoughts of harming either themself or the baby.
Tessa Haring, CrossReach’s manager of postnatal depression services for Lothian, says, “We are open to men and women and work with 120 clients a week. We started very small in 1988 with a women’s group, but increasingly over the last decade we have recognised that men need support too.
“Much of the emphasis during pregnancy is on the woman, for good reason, but men have needs too. Also, there is still a stigma and it’s sexist to say, but nevertheless I think it’s true, that men tend to deal with their feelings by other means than counselling. They get very busy with work or thrash around in the gym.”
Postnatal depression is the extreme end of the wedge for men, with many admitting to feeling overwhelmed by the changes fatherhood brings, possibly having to combine the roles of being the main economic provider with also showing their nurturing side. And that’s without the trauma of watching their child being born. “Women want them to be at the birth, and if they show any fear we call them wimps and say, ‘What do you think it’s like for me?’
“They’re looking at their sexual partner in the most difficult situation for hours on end, and that can be hard for some men,” says Haring.
Thomas Lynch also knows how it feels to be left holding the baby and not knowing what to do. “I draw on my own personal experience of the birth of my son, Lewis, who is now three and a half,” he says. Lynch works in counselling, with a special interest in new dads. “For the first couple of minutes, he wasn’t breathing and they took him away. My wife was drugged up and didn’t realise, and I thought, ‘What if I have to tell her he hasn’t made it?’ Then they brought him back, a healthy baby.
“There was more blood than I expected. To see your partner in so much pain and not be able to do anything about it is a very traumatic experience that you don’t really acknowledge. I’m not sure I would want my wife to go through it again. She doesn’t want to do it again either.
“It sparked something in me and I remember looking online to speak to other fathers who were feeling like I was, but not finding them. I wasn’t depressed and I knew it wasn’t postnatal depression, but I had a bit of anxiety.”
What Lynch had identified was a gap in the support network for new fathers, in a society where extended families with a wealth of childcare expertise are no longer on hand and the demands on men are increasingly complex. “There’s a real sense that men have lost their way and their identity,” says Lynch. “Fatherhood changes who you are, and at the same time we’re trying to support our wives.”
Lynch, who works in HR in a bank, decided to volunteer as a counsellor to support other men. He got in touch with Fathers Network Scotland, of which he is now the vice chair. Having set up his own counselling business, he has also joined forces with David Marshall to launch the DadsRock playgroup for fathers and their children, in a bid provide a comfortable forum in which men can discuss any issues of interest. “We play with the kids and get out the guitars and sing.
“We are not explicitly saying it’s about postnatal depression in men and peer support, but are hoping that will happen. There’s definitely still a stigma about admitting to depression and men don’t like to be seen as vulnerable. But postnatal depression needs to be recognised because it’s more common that we think. We all need to learn we’re good enough.”
Marshall agrees, saying, “I could have killed Freya and myself, but I’m cured now. I want to help other men who are struggling too.”
• CrossReach (0131-538 7288,www.crossreach.org.uk); Fathers Network Scotland (www.fathersnetwork.org.uk)