On 19th June 2017 The Natal Family will join in the celebrations and social media hype for the second International Father’s Mental Health Day. Watch out for #IFMHD on social media from the 19th June for a week – lots and lots of great content that focuses on key aspects of fathers’ mental health will be shared online.
Why do we need an awareness day for father’s mental health?
Because 10% of dads are reported to experience perinatal postpartum depression. And while there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental health for both men and women, it looks like, as a society, we have a long way to go when it comes to recognising the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression, especially in men.
We caught up with Mark Williams, postnatal depression survivor and founder of Reaching Out, who in 2016 started the first International Father’s Mental Health Day (to be celebrated every year the day after Father’s Day). Here at The Natal Family we are very fortunate to have met Mark – we’re familiar with his story and with the fantastic work that he’s been doing to raise awareness of paternal depression during the perinatal period. So we thought we’d catch up with Mark and share this short interview with you all.
Q.: Mark, when did you decide to start Reaching Out and why?
“My story starts with the birth of my son. It was a very traumatic birth. When my wife got taken to theatre for an emergency c-section, I was scared. I feared she was going to die! Both my wife and my son were ok, thankfully. But what became apparent a little while after his birth was that my wife was suffering from anxiety and depression.
I had to be strong and look after her – look after them both. But the truth is that I wasn’t well either. And one day I realised what was happening to me – I was actually experiencing suicidal thoughts. In hindsight, I know now that that was postnatal depression. And both the traumatic birth and my wife’s postnatal depression were huge factors in me feeling that way.
The problem is that at the time I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone, and I ended up having a breakdown. Eventually, I was put on medication, took a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, and I was lucky to be able to turn things around.
Now both myself and my wife are fine and have a great bond with our son. But it’s important that we use our story to raise awareness – we need to get the message out there and let people (men and women) know that although this can happen, help IS available.
Today it’s estimated that 1 in 10 fathers experiences postnatal depression, and as many as 1 in 3 will have concerns about their own mental health. When a mum is diagnosed with postnatal depression, that’s when we really need to be able to offer the father support, as this increases the risk of him developing the condition as well.”
Q.: Here at The Natal Family we work closely with families (mums and dads) both in the antenatal and the postnatal period. We have an inclusive approach, where we openly welcome fathers, partners or birth partners to attend our classes. We offer unbiased and non-judgemental information and support, and we know you are familiar with and fully supportive of our programmes MummyNatal and BabyNatal.
What else do you think could help families with raising awareness around mental health both in the period leading to the birth and in the first few months after the birth?
“Personally, I believe that birth trauma is huge in men. Unfortunately, a lot of men feel unprepared – they don’t know what to do to help and feel like ‘spare parts’ at the birth. But it’s not only that. During the birth they may witness interventions or exchange dialogues with health professionals that might need to be debriefed afterwards. And often, they are not. Fathers, and families in general, are just not offered this service enough – they don’t even know it’s available to them!
And from having spoken to many fathers over the years, I know that what can happen is that the father (and mother!) who hasn’t had a chance to have the birth experience debriefed carries certain thoughts and feelings with him. He doesn’t feel that he can’t talk about it, and he may then end up being in a situation where the family are expecting their second (or subsequent) child, and the father’s anxiety starts to emerge.
This can happen during the pregnancy and can be carried through all the way to the birth and the postnatal period. And it can have huge consequences on how the father feels and behaves during the birth and how he bonds with the baby afterwards, for example. People react differently, but you may have fathers who struggle to bond with the baby and subconsciously bury themselves into work. This starts a vicious circle where the father doesn’t spend much time with the baby and loses confidence around being able to care for them. And then finds himself focusing onto work even more.
It just doesn’t have to be this way though. If and when we help fathers with more education, more support (through debriefing, for example), we can address these factors before they lead to relationship issues (with the partner and the baby) and potentially more serious problems for the families involved. We just need a more holistic, all-encompassing approach where both parents are supported.
This is also why I’m a big fan of Dean Beaumont’s The Expectant Dad’s Handbook. Dean talks honestly about the birth of his and Steph’s first child and how that made him feel. And in the book he guides fathers through pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period in a way that makes sense to men. He addresses the concerns and worries that dads have and helps them understand their roles as protectors and advocates for their partners. That’s precisely what we need to help fathers feel less scared, unprepared and like ‘spare parts’.”
We’d like to thank Mark for this interview and hope you’ll join in with the social media campaigns for International Father’s Mental Health Day, starting on the 19th June.
You can find Mark via his website Reaching Out or on Twitter. And remember to search for #IFMHD! If you’re interested in finding out more about our classes, don’t forget to look for your nearest MummyNatal or BabyNatal practitioner.