The #FatherFigures campaign aims to encourage more men to speak openly about their mental health and wellbeing in order to be a “healthier, happier version of themselves so ultimately, they can be the best fathers possible”.
Adam Hickmott, one of the dads involved in the project, says when he was supporting his partner through postnatal depression, he reached “breaking point” himself, but felt pressure to “stay strong”, despite feeling “helpless and defeated” inside.
“All I could think to do was bury it. As a result of burying it, I let myself go, becoming a slob with no motivation. Punishing myself for not being able to fix the situation we found our selves in,” he says. “Sadly, nobody around us knew the pain we were going through.
Hickmott has the following advice for other dads: “When you are on the edge - a place I have been - stop and talk. Talk to someone, anyone. Talking will help, I chose my own father to talk to. Knowing just one person has your back is all you need to become strong again. I was a different man back then.”
Dr Andrew Mayers, a psychologist at Bournemouth University who specialises in perinatal mental health, says many men may, like Hickmott, not seek help for postnatal depression because of a perception it only affects women.
“The causes of mental health problems, such as postnatal depression, are every bit as relevant for dads as they are for mums,” he says.
“Often, the perception is that postnatal depression is hormonal, so could not possibly affect fathers. But hormones only play a small part. Environmental and social factors, such as social support, poverty, relationships changes, education, and stigma, are a much better predictor. These equally apply to dads. We need to encourage more dads to seek help.”
The project, created by The Dad Network, also aims to inspire dads to celebrate their bodies, whilst breaking down societal stereotypes of what a ‘normal’ body should look like.
It comes after a study of more than 112,000 men published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity in 2016 found only half were satisfied with their weight. What’s more, research commissioned by Central YMCA and the Succeed Foundation found more than four in five men (81%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to their perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women.
The campaign is being supported by clinical psychologist Dr Emma Hepburn who says “men’s and dads’ mental health is an important area where we need to increase knowledge and awareness, and reduce stigma”.
“Research suggests that men are less likely to seek mental health support or disclose their concerns to friends and family. For dads, parenthood presents a number of challenges to mental health and research shows there are higher rates of mental health conditions in the early years of fatherhood,” she says.
“Increasing awareness and knowledge of men’s mental health, and ways to seek help and support, can help break down some of the barriers men face when they experience mental health difficulties.”
As part of the campaign, the organisers have issued the following advice for dads who are struggling with their mental health:
Remember you’re not alone - stay connected by joining a safe community of dads.
Talk about your feelings - find someone you can trust - a close friend, a family member or someone you know will be supportive. It is not shameful to have these feelings, everyone experiences emotions; it’s a normal part of being human.
Eat well - evidence suggests that good nutrition is essential for our mental health.
Stay aware of your alcohol consumption - this depressant can have a negative impact on mental health.
Take time out - relaxing gives your mind and body time to recover from the stresses of everyday life.
Appreciate your body as it is - we come in all shapes and sizes and we do not have to conform to societal stereotypes.
Keep active - physical activity is beneficial to your mental well-being.
Ask for help - it is courageous to recognise and ask for help if you need it.
Read more about mental health, to help understand what others have been through and what can be done to help.
Dads at home who want to join in on social media can share a photograph of a part of their body with #FatherFigures written on it using the #FatherFigures hashtag.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org