The first International Fathers’ Mental Health Day will take place on Monday, June 20 to raise awareness of postnatal depression (PND), antenatal anxiety and childbirth trauma experienced by men.
Research suggests that at least 1 in 10 fathers experience PND, and can be more affected by it as men tend to leave it until crisis point years later. Fathers can experience antenatal anxiety and depression too.
Moreover, fathers often suffer in silence and can use negative coping methods such as alcohol and drugs which can lead to anger and violence.
Mark Williams, who experienced all 3 after becoming a father and subsequently founded charities Fathers Reaching Out and Reaching Out Positive Mental Health explained: "Fathers, as well as mothers, can experience mental illness at what should be one of life’s happiest times so it’s important to ensure that men talk about their feelings and recognise the symptoms as the quicker the help, the quicker the recovery.
“Health professionals also need to ensure that dads are given permission to open up about their feelings so they can stay healthy and support mums.”
In addition, men are not mentioned in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines relating to the perinatal period and often fall through the early prevention services net.
This can lead to the break-up of relationships – about 2 in 3 fathers who should have received support are no longer together in the family unit, according to data from Fathers Reaching Out. A father who is unwell is also less likely to bond with his children.
• Fathers are the main source of support for the mother and children at this time and often feel the pressure of failing to live up to expectations
• Fathers can also experience post-traumatic stress disorder when they witness their loved one going through a difficult birth and experience feelings of hopelessness
• Fathers with a history of mental illness are more likely to become unwell again due to the stress of becoming a father and looking after a partner with a perinatal mental illness.
"I've spoken to fathers with bipolar, schizophrenia, clinical depression, anxiety and other mental health illness who have no support plan in place at this crucial time,” said Williams. “We must bring everything together as if one piece of the jigsaw doesn't fit, things can quickly go terribly wrong."
Williams is advocating that recent advances in perinatal mental health services do not leave fathers behind. He wants to see more opportunities for fathers to discuss their feelings and be offered support when required – a preventative approach that will enable more families to enjoy the miracle of childbirth and go on to live happier and healthier lives.
You can share your thoughts and experiences on International Fathers’ Mental Health Day by using #IntFathersMHday on Twitter.