Understanding Father's mental health and wellbeing during their transition to fatherhood is an area where significant difference can be made for the wellbeing of the whole family.
Today sees the first ever International Fathers' Mental Health Day which is setting out to raise awareness in particular of postnatal depression (PND), antenatal anxiety and childbirth trauma experienced by men.
To some this is an unfathomable phenomena, to men like Mark Williams who is a leading figure in establishing this awareness day it was a very real reality. Mark Williams, who suffered all three after becoming a father and subsequently founded Fathers Reaching Out and Reaching Out Positive Mental Health explains: "Fathers, as well as mothers, can also 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.
Prince William yesterday promoted mental health issues at a father's day breakfast speaking elequently about the need for fathers to discuss mental health with their children - but what if the father is experiencing mental health problems themselves? We cannot underestimate the significant impact on the whole family when one member is struggling with the mental health.
Perinatal mental health has brought about ground breaking understanding and awareness in recent times for women in the UK but it is now time for us to give around 1 in 10 fathers a voice who are finding themselves with little support when the perinatal illness impacts upon their mind and their relationships on a day to day basis.
Research shows that:
. Around 1 in 10 fathers suffer from Postnatal Depression (PND).
. Fathers can experience antenatal anxiety and depression too.
. Suicide among men aged 30 to 44 years increases around of time of becoming a father.
. Clinically recommended guidelines currently fail to mention mens experience in the perinatal period.
. Family breakdown is a leading consequence for 2 in 3 fathers.
The impact on the next generation coming into the world is significant and i am sure through ancient wisdom the reason why the proverb it takes a village to raise a child is quoted so often, so why aren't we doing better for family life in the UK.
Bonding is a critical factor for the baby and their relationships and we are understanding more and more the key role that the father has to play for the life chances of their offspring.Research shows like mothers that if a father is suffering from mental illness then it is unlikely a strong bond will be formed if therapeutic support is not put in place.
Fathers who may already have a history of mental illness without support will struggle with the added stress of a baby, but it does not mean that they are unable to be a father to their baby. How as a community we support not just mothers but fathers should matter to us all for the next generation who are in need of their care may well be your carer in latter years.
Do we not want healthy relationships and good mental health throughout the lifespan of family life? I believe most people think so - well lets get behind this important awareness day to appreciate the role of fatherhood today in our family and community life and the vital role it plays for children mental health, whilst putting the support that is needed to enable whole family support and a holistic approach from pregnancy onwards.
Employers should be doing more to support this experience in the workplace. as we advocate to de-stigmatise the conversation around mental health in the workplace, this agenda for men needs to be given its rightful platform and voice.
Mark says "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. We must bring everything together as if one piece of the jigsaw doesn't fit, things can quickly go terribly wrong"
Thankfully, things are improving greatly in perinatal mental health for mothers but fatherhood has changed over the last decade so it's vital that fathers are not left behind. It can take years for negative experiences to manifest themselves so by giving fathers an opportunity to discuss their feelings and offering support when required, this preventative approach will enable more families to enjoy the miracle of childbirth and go on to live happier and healthier lives.
I wholeheartedly endorse this first international fathers mental health day for a step change for family life and a generational shift to consider what fatherhood is, what it looks like today and what does it mean for family relationships.