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Dads' mental health: good news, bad news

Parenthood expert, Elly Taylor, shares her thoughts on the state of dads' mental health in Australia, following her presentation at the National Men's Health Gathering

I was only there for a few sessions of this year's National Men's Health Gathering before my own presentation on Parenthood and Men's Wellbeing, but geez, some of it was hard going. The incidences of male suicide and domestic violence are shocking.

So it felt good to share with the audience (many of whom were suffering from compassion fatigue) what might be a ray of hope.

First some bad news

Where we're at with Dad's Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) currently:

  1. One in 10 dads reporting symptoms of Paternal Postpartum Depression
  2. 17% of dads reporting symptoms of anxiety and
  3. A much higher risk for suicide (more on that soon).
  4. 92% of parents reporting increased conflict in the first year of family and
  5. 67% reporting a decline in relationship satisfaction in the first three years

The risk factors for PMH issues include: 

  • A history of depression
  • An unexpected pregnancy
  • A partner who is depressed (50% risk - we have a lot of depressed new families)
  • Poor relationship quality
  • High stress levels

And the contributing factors:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Lack of sleep
  • Unmet expectations of life and fatherhood
  • The changing role of fathers - including competing priorities
  • A traumatic birth experience
  • Lack of social and emotional support
  • Relying on things like drugs or alcohol to try and cope
  • Unresolved loss and grief issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Infant fussiness

Are you still with me? This next bit is hard too.

The negative affects on the family:

  • Dad being irritable, moody and withdrawn
  • Increasing his work hours
  • Increased drug/alcohol use
  • Reduced ability to bond with his baby
  • Increased emotional and behavioural problems in children
  • Increased risk of affairs
  • So not surprisingly, increased risk for relationship and family breakdown, and lastly, and often devastatingly,
  • Increased risk for self-harm, including suicide.

In fact, in researching for this presentation (thanks to Mark Williams at Reaching Out PMH) I discovered that in a 2011 study of 650 fathers, those with a PMH issue were 20-46 times more likely to present with suicide risk. If, as you're reading reading this, you recognise that you're having thoughts of self harm, please reach out to Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

We need to turn this around. We need to start resourcing parents for all the change and challenges that parenthood is likely to bring. That's what we're hoping to do with Becoming Us.

The Becoming Us Program

Through our Becoming Us whole family approach to parenthood and our new Becoming Us Before Baby and Becoming Us After Baby programs for expecting and new parents we aim to:

  • Include fathers (and same-sex partners) in all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood
  • Give both parents the attention, respect, understanding and compassion they deserve
  • Provide opportunities for both parents to recognize and acknowledge each other's experiences of parenthood
  • Support the mental, emotional and relationship health of mothers, fathers and partners
  • Reduce the risks for self-harm and intimate partner violence that can destroy families
  • Demystify and destigmatise PMH Conditions for mothers and fathers and reduce the known psycho-social risks for these
  • Elevate the roles of motherhood, fatherhood and parenthood in society and
  • Build a strong foundation for families

Feedback From Parents

And it was in this context that I was proud to share the preliminary results of the promising 18 month pilot of our Becoming Us Before Baby classes, facilitated by our amazing (and very first Certified Facilitator) Barb Buckner Suarez, CBE through Legacy Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

Here's some feedback from the dads in Barb's awesome classes:

“Tonight gave me an “ah-ha!” moment about a rare, deep-seeded emotion. I had a chance to acknowledge it and set a path for better expressing my future frustrations in a healthy way”

“The tidbits of “it’s okay” were greatly helpful in setting expectations, particularly because we heard them together instead of from one person’s perspective”

“This course allows me to write down things to share with my partner so she understands me better, and vice-versa”

“The Becoming Us program has helped us to stop and reset how we are interacting with one another under stress”.

Becoming Us is new and we have a long, long way to go, but we think this is a really, really great start!



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