Paternal Mental Health is Real

Jamie @adayinthelifedad
📝 Freelance writer, Podcaster & Raising Awareness
Talking all things Men’s Mental Health, family and the environment
Dad to Edie & Arlo
Lover of all creatures great and small 🐳🐕 🐢

Ahh, having a baby; it should be amazing shouldn’t it? And it is. Most of the time. But, let’s face it, having a baby and becoming a father is a stressful and emotionally challenging time. Don’t get me wrong, hormonally and physically, women obviously experience much more change, but us men can suffer too. So, not to offend or mislabel any conditions, let’s not call this men’s postnatal depression (PND) here, let’s call it ‘paternal mental health’ instead.

As a species, men are allegedly made of tougher stuff. From a young age we’re told that ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘grow some balls, and to ‘man up’, so it comes as no surprise that when monumental life changes such as welcoming a child into the world, men can suffer, and often in silence.

When my first child was born, I clearly remember the health visitor coming to our house two or three days into our lives as new parents. As with all appointments such as this, I ensured I was there; I was interested to hear what they said about mother and baby and how they were getting on, but also just to make sure I was there to support my wife. The health visitor made all his checks in our bedroom whilst I stood at the end of our bed, watching on. There were lots of questions for my wife but as the appointment went on, it became quite clear I might as well of not been there. Not to place any blame at the health visitor, he was only doing what was required of his job, but I was barely even spoken to. I wasn’t looking for a therapy session on how fatherhood was treating me, but a simple ‘how are you doing dad?’ wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Thankfully, despite his lack of acknowledgement, I was okay. Fatherhood was something I loved from the moment my wife fell pregnant, let alone give birth. There are ups and downs, everyone knows that, but overall, I embraced fatherhood.

That said, as someone who’s worked on various mental health projects over the last few years and spoken to a number of men who have struggled with PMH, I’m all too aware of just how many men are affected when becoming a father.

The emotional change is overwhelming. Suddenly you’re a father. You’re responsible for another human. Just that alone can be enough to blow a young man’s mind. The biggest stress in life before then might have been forgetting to submit your Fantasy Football changes before the weekend deadline.

Then there’s the lack of a physical bond with a new-born. Antenatal classes and glossy mags will have us men believe that simply whipping off our shirt and holding the baby on our manly chest soon after birth for some skin on skin contact, will ensure our bond is immediate and forever lasting. Yeah, right. For the next few days, the baby might not want anything to do with dad. After nine months growing inside their mother, it’s no surprise they’re happier wrapped in mum’s arms, where they can be fed and feel a familiar warmth and hear a recognisable soothing voice. Much like the experience with the health visitor, there’s a picture forming here of dads feeling like a spare part. Indeed, for the first few weeks, dads might find themselves bonding more with the steriliser than their own child.

The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population and first-time dads are particularly vulnerable. Dads who are under 25 are more likely to go through postnatal depression than their older counterparts. Yet age isn’t the only risk factor for paternal mental health issues. There’s the added financial stress, the lack of sleep and having to return to work two weeks into your child’s life and maybe only seeing them at their worse – 3am and screaming the street down!

I know PND is more common than PMH (that said, so many cases of both go undiagnosed and unreported), and with the hormonal changes, physical changes and emotional stress of becoming a mother, it comes as no surprise that so many women suffer. But it’s clear men can suffer too. Obviously, their bodies and hormones haven’t suffered any significant change because of a birth, but mental health is mental health. It doesn’t discriminate. Mental health doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman. It doesn’t care if you’ve just become a new parent.

If you’re struggling with your mental health after becoming a father, and as with all cases that might trigger any mental health issues, the best thing to do is talk. Suffering in silence will not help anyone. Not your partner, not your child and not you. Help is out there and talking to someone is the gateway to that help.

One final thing, and I hear this a lot when talking to people about mental health. Lots of us know the importance of talking about our issues, but despite the love and trust we have in our partners, they can sometimes be the hardest to speak to, especially in the early stages of parenthood. As mentioned, they might be suffering themselves, so to burden them with what might feel like insignificant issues compared to theirs is often hard. But, and it’s a big but, parents need to be there for each other. They need to be on the same page and going in the same direction. Working together on whatever issues there might be, could be the best remedy for PND or PMH.