This international campaign is being led in the UK by Dr Andrew Mayers (a mental health campaigner and educator at Bournemouth University) and Mark Williams (a dad from Bridgend in Wales, who developed mental health problems after his wife experienced birth trauma, but is now a global campaigner for parents).
Dr Mayers’ work focuses on aiming to get better mental health support for mothers and fathers but is particularly motivated to get more help for dads. He says, “My research and professional work shows that fathers are not getting the support they need. The causes of mental health problems, such as postnatal depression, are every bit as relevant for dads as they are for mums. Often, the perception is that postnatal depression is hormonal, so could not possibly affect fathers. Despite evidence suggesting that hormonal changes occur in men during the perinatal period, i.e. before and after birth (Hanley & Williams, 2017) But hormones only play a small part. Environmental and social factors, such as social support, poverty, relationships changes, education, and stigma, are a much better predictor. These equally apply to dads.
“Not only that, men find it much harder to seek support for emotional problems, often because of stigma and societal perceptions. It’s not thought manly to express emotion. But the impact of mental illness for men can be catastrophic. The biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide”
Mark Williams co-founded International Fathers’ Mental Health Day in 2016 with Dr Daniel Singley (a psychologist based in San Diego, California). Since then, the event has grown each year. Mark said, “We need to think family when it comes to perinatal mental health and remember that if dad is the only one struggling, that will impact on the whole family if unsupported.”
Stereotypically in society, at least here in the UK, when we imagine a parent having mental health issues, we first of all see the woman in despair, crying out for help and support, whilst the man sits in the background, behind his newspaper or in his shed. Whilst this is a rather 1950s image, the thought can persist that the woman will deal with all the slings and arrows of bringing up a family and the man hides behind his TV, sports channel or hobbies as he is immune to such emotional turbulence, and continues with his job as provider and peacemaker, only engaging in domestic and family life when he’s asked.
But research shows that nothing could be further from the truth. For many men, becoming a parent for the first time can be a huge shock, and can be a daunting experience bringing this tiny new person into their lives. Women may have communication with the midwife or health visitor but there is no obvious person for a new father to approach. Women often discover they can bond with other new mothers, as they are eager to learn and to share their often bewildering experiences – it’s fair to say that new mothers will spend a lot more time discussing all the things that are bothering them or frustrating them, rather than talking about how wonderful it all is. However, some men struggle to form these connections or just don’t have the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences.
At Talk In The Bay we recognise the needs of both parents and becoming a father can be complex and demanding. You might be struggling with experiences of post traumatic stress after witnessing the birth, hormonal changes impacting your mood, lack of support from a partner who also is struggling with postnatal depression or feelings of blame from not fulfilling societal expectations of protecting the family (Hanley & Williams, 2017). Our therapists at Talk In The Bay can support you with a variety of support including but not limited to mindfulness, CBT, psychotherapy and/or exploring past experiences that may have been triggered by becoming a father. Whatever treatment is chosen, it’s important that it remains your choice and to remember that it may take time and your therapist can guide you through this difficult period and allow an opportunity to become more aware of how to manage postnatal mental health difficulties.
Hanley J, Williams M (2017) Assessing and managing paternal mental health issues. Nursing Times [online]; 114: 12, 26-29.