"As we know mental health awareness has increased rapidly over the last few years and the stigma is slowly disappearing," writes Mark Williams, of Fathers Reaching Out. Today is International Fathers' Mental Health Day, which was co-founded by Mark who is a survivor of postnatal depression. Today Mark reminds us that suicide is still the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and that it is of vital importance that we talk to new dads about their mental health, and screen them, just like we do mums.
"What I have found over the last ten years is that if you support all parents for their mental health they will have far better opportunities to be the parents they want to be. It will also help with the development of the child, as we know that the relationship between parent and child is so important these early years.
Everyone has mental health. But that may become poor for new parents as result of stress and sleep deprivation and without early prevention it can lead to anxiety and depression.
Although most of us—men and women alike—are socialised to think of men as providers of support during the perinatal period and early parenthood, a wealth of research shows that 10% of new dads experience paternal postpartum depression and tend also to need support. That figure increases to 50% when their birth partner is experiencing depression. However, the stigma around experiencing mental health difficulties in early parenthood is even greater for men than for women. Society so often views men as stoic, self-sacrificing, and above all, strong. When men feel none of those things as new fathers, they don’t want to admit it or seek help.
International Fathers' Mental Health Day is a means to take a whole-family, father-inclusive approach by shedding light on the best practices and related resources for dads, their partners, and those who support them. The annual event has a global team, as the name suggests. Founded by myself and Postpartum Support International board member Dr. Daniel Singley, IFMHD involves taking the day after Father’s Day to launch a focused social media campaign which highlights key aspects of fathers’ mental health. Dr Andy Mayers from Bournemouth University, Dr Bronwyn Leigh in Australia and Dr David Levine, New York are also among the team.
With uncertain times ahead it is even more important that we support parents. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Movember research found 1 in 5 British fathers felt totally isolated and three quarters felt "stress" during the first year of fatherhood.
It isn't all bad news, though. When I worked alongside Father Network Scotland delivering Understanding Paternal Mental Health training with Chris Miezitis, I found that so much pioneering work is going on that certainly isn't happening in many countries. From a personal point of view, the beginning of lockdown was hard for me after my speaking and training was cancelled. Apart from financial pressure however, my mental health has improved with more time for walking the mountains, getting back to nature and spending more time with my family.
With support now online and people using technology more than ever, please don't suffer in silence. Talk about how you're feeling. As I always say, "The quicker the help, the quicker the recovery"."
To contact Mark Williams and to find out more about his work visit Fathers Reaching Out. To find out more about our Understanding Paternal Mental Health training, email Chris Miezitis at [email protected]