Mental health for new dads
Mental health is an important topic of discussion whether it’s for women, men or children, and here at KIDDO we love that the lines of conversation around mental health are being opened and the stigma is lessening. We talk to Dr Grant Blashki, Lead Clinical Adviser for Beyond Blue about mental health for new dads.
Dr Grant Blashki is a practicing GP, the Lead Clinical Advisor for Beyond Blue, and has published numerous books and research papers about mental health. He is an active commentator in media and has given hundreds of public presentations. As the father of three grown-up children, he is committed to helping new dads traverse that exciting, and sometimes daunting, transition to fatherhood.
What are the main challenges that face the “modern father” in society today?
The very notion of being a father has evolved and morphed in recent decades, mostly for good. In my clinic, I see so many young fathers who are engaged with their children on a daily basis. In times past, this was rare, however these changes in roles have also brought their own pressures.
For instance, social media is a relatively new phenomenon that can increase the pressure to be the perfect parent, which often paints a false representation of what parents should experience day to day.
Some dads are feeling the pressure from society to still fill the traditional role of ‘the bread winner’ as well as being a hands-on father and struggling to juggle both roles.
My impression is also that for many young men who are about to be fathers, there is a sense of “how can I be a father? I haven’t really got myself worked out yet.”
How has the evolution of a father’s role changed the pressures on fathers these days?
It’s great that dads are becoming more and more hands-on in raising their kids, we’re gradually seeing traditional gender roles for parenting soften and this stands to benefit everyone. There’s still some way to go in these changing roles being more accepted in society, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Some dads today feel the stress of trying to ‘have it all’, balancing their career ambitions and being an involved parent at the same time. Which is why it’s great to see workplaces becoming more supportive than in the past with parental leave arrangements, relieving some of the pressure on mums and dads.
Fathers are more hands on than ever before. Has this had a positive or negative impact on their mental health?
Being involved and engaged with the raising of their children is an overwhelmingly positive thing for fathers. It promotes strong emotional connections with their child and it can really boost the dad’s sense of purpose.
What are the main reasons that men will struggle when becoming a new father?
Because men don’t experience all the physical changes of pregnancy and giving birth, they may not begin to feel like a dad until after the baby is born.
Becoming a dad is a big change. Some main ways men can struggle include the pressure to be a ‘good parent’, relationship stress with their partner, worrying they won’t love their new baby and difficulty getting enough sleep.
These adjustments come with stress which, when it builds up, can put your mental health at risk. In fact, depression affects one in 10 dads between the first trimester and the year after the baby’s birth. Anxiety conditions affect one in six dads during the pregnancy and one in five in the postnatal period.
However, awareness about men’s experience of PNDA is low, with 45 per cent of fathers not aware that men can have postnatal depression and 43 per cent of first-time fathers see anxiety and depression after having a baby as a sign of weakness.
What are some recommendations to get help if someone is struggling with their mental health?
Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Your GP is a great place to start, they can help find the right support for you.
For soon-to-be dads, it may be helpful for you to take some time to think about how you’ve reacted to the news and talk it through with your partner. What are you worried about? What are you excited about?
The main message is, talk about how you’re feeling, don’t just dwell on it by yourself.
Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636. Web chat is also available 3pm until midnight AEST at beyondblue.org.au/getsupport
The Beyond Blue website has resources for new dads including Dadvice, and some excellent videos from the fathers discussing how they manage some of the challenges.
Tips for keeping well as a new dad
– Talk to your partner about how you’re both feeling
– Reach out to other dads/parent groups – Beyond Blue forums might be useful
– If you need help, see your GP and maybe undertake a GP Mental Health Plan
– Try not to forget the small stuff – drink enough water and eat well
If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of depression and loneliness reach out beyondblue.org.au
Or read our article about a Modern Day Dad’s Group in Adelaide