Becoming a dad is the greatest, proudest moment of a man’s life. You’ve created a tiny, moving, breathing bundle of joy. When you hold your child in your arms for the first time, it may well be the strongest you’ll ever love.
However for many Australian dads, it’s not always that clear cut. While the feelings of undying love may still be there, they might also be accompanied with feelings of anxiety, fear, distress, sadness and pressure.
While the majority of the attention is fairly given to mums and the child before, during and after childbirth, the physical and mental wellbeing of the father is often forgotten about and not given enough attention.
With constant pressures from society, it’s easy for a man to start believing what he’s fed. In a stereotypical family, the father goes to work to support the family and the mother stays home and looks after the baby. Men are supposedly the unbreakable rocks of the family.
In all these misconceptions, assumptions and stereotypes, it’s forgotten that men have feelings, too. Men get sad. Men get stressed. Men wake up in the middle of the night stressing about their job security.
A major stumbling block from there on is that men start believing these feelings are unwarranted. That because they’re the man of the house, they’re not allowed to be weak. That because it’s just going to cause more problems, they’re not allowed to be stressed or feel pressure.
In today’s world, modern dads need to be switched on at all hours, whether at work or at home, ready to give their partner a break from a full day of parenting. Although most new fathers don’t get the chance to spend as much time with their kids as they’d like, the stress and the concern for their loved ones is still sky-high.
New and expecting fathers are at higher than average risk of experiencing depression or anxiety prior to or during the first year of their first child’s birth. Furthermore, one in seven new fathers experience high levels of psychological distress in the perinatal period, and as many as one in ten experience depression or anxiety.
If you’re finding new fatherhood tougher than you expected, don’t go it alone. Talk to someone about it. The mental health of dads is important, not just for the men themselves, but because their mental health impacts directly on their partner and babies’ wellbeing. When a dad is feeling on top of things, he is better placed to be a supportive partner and involved dad – which is good for the entire family.
In 2015, beyondblue commissioned research on experiences of psychological distress in new fathers, their information and support needs, the barriers and facilitators of help seeking, and appropriate communication concepts for engagement. In a survey involving 1531 new and experienced fathers across Australia, the key findings were damning:
- While becoming a dad was viewed as a time of great joy and happiness by most men (89%), many men felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of their new role as a parent.
- 79% of dads feel the need to be ‘the rock’ for their family (i.e. the stable, unemotional base of support); with 47% of dads saying this causes them a lot of stress and anxiety.
- In the face of this pressure, 56% of new dads did not seek out information or support from any source during stressful times.
- The strength of this internalised pressure to be ‘the rock’ was seen as a key barrier to seeking help for depression and anxiety.
- Of great concern, 39% of first time fathers experienced high levels of psychological distress in the first year of their child’s life.
- There was low awareness of mental health conditions for men in early parenthood. 45% of dads were not aware that men could experience postnatal depression as well as women; and 43% of first time dads saw anxiety and depression after having a baby as a sign of weakness.
This research alone should be enough to see there’s a major problem that needs addressing.
On Sunday August 28th, beyondblue launched ‘Dadvice’, an Australian first campaign funded with donations from the Movember Foundation to support the mental health of new dads. The campaign targets first time fathers who are at increased risk for depression and anxiety during pregnancy and up to the child reaches 12 months old.
The campaign aims to help new dads realise they’re not alone if they’re finding fatherhood tougher than they expected, cope with the challenges of new dad life and stay mentally healthy, and find professional support if they’re experiencing depression or anxiety. Dadvice aims to provide the much needed guidance to men trying to find their feet as a dad.
There are 305,079 new fathers in Australia every year and with this figure only increasing, it’s time to nip the problem in the bud. Though for something that many men find difficult to talk about, how do we know who’s at risk or who needs help?
The new dads most at risk of depression or anxiety are those with:
– a partner with a mental health condition
– a personal history of depression or anxiety
– poor relationship quality (or separated)
– limited social networks and support systems
The ‘Dadvice’ campaign is built around a web series of four episodes, hosted by father and comedian Ben Lomas, each tackling common stress points for new dads such as their relationships with themselves, their work, their partner and their mates. The series also features stand-up comedians Sammy J, Lawrence Mooney and Dave O’Neil – all of whom are dads themselves.
The episodes follow new dads through the joys and challenges of fatherhood, as well as providing strategies for staying mentally healthy during these challenging times.
For far too long have men seeking help been considered weak. If change is to be achieved, males need to start understanding and believing that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but in fact the complete opposite – a sign of strength.
To watch the videos and for more information, head to Dadvice.org.au