Mental Health, Q&A

Q&A: Mark Williams

Posted on 16th July 2019

This month, we’re delighted to be chatting with our good friend and fellow ‘dadvocate’, Mark Williams (@MarkWilliamsFMH). Today he works as a campaigner, striving to raise awareness of the fact that dads – as well as mums – can suffer with post-natal depression (PND).  Mark has also recently published his first book, Daddy Blues, and we have included some extracts from this within our interview.

Hi Mark.  For those who don’t already know your story, can you tell us what led to you getting involved with issues relating to paternal mental health?

It all comes from personal experience. I went through a period of depression after looking after my wife when she had post-natal depression following a traumatic birth. After then suffering a breakdown, I spoke to a dad in the gym and found out that he, too, had struggled during the post-natal period.

…while I was working out one day, I started talking to a guy called Brian. My first thought when I saw him… was that I would never want to pick a fight with him! But something inside me made me talk to him. After we’d been talking a little while, he mentioned that he had been going to the PRAM (Perinatal Response and Management Service) group in Bridgend with his wife. A group for women with PND… Within a few weeks of him telling me that, I had told him everything about me. It was a strange scene – us two manly guys, standing by the weights, talking about our feelings! [After nursing his wife through PND and looking after their daughter at the same time]… he had experienced a complete breakdown. His world became a dark place, and he didn’t know how to cope with anything. It was like hearing my own story told back at me.

I decided to set up a support group for a few years, called Fathers Reaching Out, but passed it over to another charity as demanded was bigger than expected. I then moved to campaigning instead.

The last few years have been a really busy time for you. What have been your highlights?

The awards are nice, as is getting to meet so many people – including members of the royal family – but the biggest buzz I get is hearing from families that I have helped in some way. The whole reason I started this campaign was to make sure that all parents are supported in order to ensure far better outcomes for everyone. I think the highlight for me is leaving a legacy for future generations and knowing how much things have changed since I started in 2011.

In 2018, you had your first book published: Daddy Blues, which we’re in the middle of reading right now. It’s amazingly – sometimes painfully – honest, as this extract shows:

I was feeling the effects of a deeper, darker depression. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it happening. Sometimes, I thought I was alright, and sometimes I wasn’t. It felt like I was stuck; I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted to do what Michelle was doing, to just hide away in bed, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I had to be the one to support the family, to take care of everyone… Weeks went by and everything seemed so flat, so colourless. Everything turned grey… We couldn’t go on like this. Something had to be fixed. It was too much for us to handle. Deep down, I know I was scared of being alone with Ethan, scared of not being able to cope, and afraid that I might actually make things worse…

How difficult was it for you to write?

I wanted to be totally honest. Of course, it was far worse for Michelle, but it’s enough to realise and to get dads talking about speaking up, as I wish I had done earlier. I wanted the book to inspire other people going through depression, showing them that you can get through it, and turn a negative time into a positive one.

Extract from Daddy Blues:

Ten signs that you might be suffering from postnatal depression:

  1. You may feel an increased sensitivity to anger, which can lead to increased conflicts with those around you
  2. You might become easily frustrated or irritated by small things.
  3. You may turn to alcohol, or other substances, far more than usual, using them to make yourself feel better.
  4. You might find yourself losing or gaining a significant amount of weight.
  5. You might become more impulsive than usual.
  6. You may begin to suffer from physical problems, such as headaches, body aches/pain, and digestive problems.
  7. You may begin to lose your ability to concentrate much on tasks.
  8. You may begin to lose your interest in your work, hobbies, and personal interests.
  9. You might start to feel conflicted between what you feel a man should be and what you currently are.
  10. You may start to think of suicide or death. 

We frequently use the #HowAreYouDad hashtag on our social media posts, after seeing you use it. Could you please explain to our readers the intention behind this hashtag?

Yes, I wanted to start the hashtag so that people could build a library of information and support groups to go to. I am also slowly starting to use #HowAreYouMum, as I am proud to be an ambassador for Mothers for Mothers. This organisation has been supporting mums with their mental health for over 38 years but is now also helping dads as well.

We’ve also just had the 4th International Fathers’ Mental Health Day, an event which you founded. What was your original intention behind this, and how did it go this year?

I had undiagnosed ADHD until I entered community mental health services, so I have always been creative and I suppose that I am also a bit of a visionary. I saw that, although there were lots of celebration days etc – like ‘Happy Wine Day’ or ‘Doughnut Week’ – there was nothing out there for focusing on dads’ mental health. I thought it was important to start a day which would be a global concern for dads.

The conference in Blackpool on International Fathers Mental Health Day was fantastic and to speak alongside Prof Paul Ramchandani, who inspired me when I started my work, was amazing.

The day itself is certainly growing and the fact that it is now on the Time to Change Mental Health Calendar, alongside World Mental Health Day is something I am definitely proud to share with everyone. Next year will be the fifth year and the event seems to growing each year.

So, what’s next for you? What are your dreams, plans and ambitions for the next few years?

All I ever wanted was for organisations to realise that dads can struggle during the perinatal period, as well as mums. I am now approaching the World Health Organisation (WHO) to try and get them to finally recommend the screening of new dads’ mental health – as well as new mums’. We know that over half-a-million male suicides happen globally each year, and these numbers will not be helped by failing to ask new dads about their mental health.

[Extracts from Daddy Blues: (1) pp102-103; (2) pp66-67; and (3) p59.]