A few days after Jamie Thomas* became a dad to twins, he realised something wasn't quite right.
His wife's induced labour had been long and the new parents were both exhausted, but he felt "incredibly proud and happy" to be a father. Once the babies left hospital though those feelings changed. What should have been a magical time was fraught with very unsettling thoughts.
"I started to feel incredibly sad and almost trapped, and I had no idea why", he tells 9Honey. "I was so torn between wanting to be a great dad and husband, and wanting my independent life back.
"I felt there would never be anything after sleepless nights and endless nappies", he says. "I felt so guilty for not feeling blissfully happy at the amazing family I had. "I worried I would never want to be a dad."
He had no idea those initial symptoms signaled a debilitating and dangerous illness that's more-commonly associated with new mums: post-natal depression. And he also wasn't alone in feeling the way he did.
Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) estimates one in 10 new dads will suffer with post-natal depression.
But, like many other fathers, Jamie didn't give a second thought to the illness — throwing himself in to work. "I was vaguely aware of the name", he says. "But I knew nothing about it and had never knowingly met someone suffering with the condition".
This hidden illness almost cost him his new family."I literally couldn't see that I was tearing them apart as I closed them off to cope", he says. "My wife was incredible and our parents too, but I just wasn't there mentally. "I was increasingly angry and short tempered."
Terri Smith, CEO of PANDA, says this is all too common. "I often refer to male PND as the best kept secret", she tells 9Honey. "People are surprised when I mention it, but this is real."
The feelings Jamie was experiencing, she says, are mirrored by the new dads who call PANDA's helpline every day. "Often they're struggling with their own judgement and it's just not talked about", Smith explains.
"Women are going the hard yard breastfeeding and taking care of the baby", she adds. "Dads want to be a rock, so it's often really hard to acknowledge what's going on for them."
"Often men will bury themselves in work, distance themselves from family, or find other ways of getting satisfaction like drink, drugs or gambling."
For Jamie — like many others — the realisation that he needed help was sparked by a difficult conversation with someone close to him. "My wife sat me down and told me the truth, which was hard to hear", he says. "It was like a slap in the face."
From there, though, things got better. "I saw a doctor fairly quickly and was diagnosed with depression", he reveals. I was offered medication and counselling. The drugs really helped control my mood swings and put things in perspective."
Smith says "normalising the illness and encouraging dad to get help" is key. "It might be helpful to point men to a website rather than a helpline because it's less threatening. That's why we set up 'How is Dad Going'".
Nearly two years on and Jamie says he's "almost back to normal", but still feels guilt for some of the things he said and did. "Mentally I'm pretty much 'fixed' and so much happier, but the 18 months of my illness has had lasting effects on my relationships, which I'm trying hard to fix.
"I'm giving everything I can to my family to show them how sorry I am now I can reflect clearly on my behaviour. Counsellors will tell you not to blame yourself and that there is no guilt involved, but it's a difficult thing to accept sometimes." Smith believes those close to a dad with post-natal depression need to recognise the causes and symptoms are "really complex".
"Women with PND are more likely to come across someone who shares a story that resonates, but no-one really asks about dad", she says. "We need to plant the seed, let people know right from the start of the pregnancy what to look out for."
"It's important to ask dad if they're struggling", she adds. "At worse, the question might offend but it's much better to step in and say something about them having a hard time. "It's often really appreciated".
Jamie says he now understands opening up about mental health makes all the difference. "I was lucky to have people who cared about me, who made me see what was happening and made me find professional help", he says.
"Once you are aware, talking is so important and feels like a huge release. Be aware that it's not a quick fix and expect a few bumps on the road to recovery, but it does get better."
Since suffering himself, Jamie firmly believes male post-natal depression needs to be dragged out of the shadows — so he has been trying to end the stigma, starting with his own friends. "Most men struggle to talk about feelings, especially something that is seen as a 'weakness'", he explains.
"I'm certain that it will have affected at least one guy in a group of friends, if not more. I've talked since to friends, and more than one has admitted to feeling the same. I'm a capable, intelligent man and it nearly lost me everything, so I think it's important to accept that sometimes we all might need some help. Don't be afraid to admit it."
*Jamie's name has been changed.
This article appeared on Nine Honey >