Until more recent years positive support for dads was a little bit of a taboo. Dads were less comfortable talking about needing or seeking help. Having worked as operations manager for Dad Matters a perinatal and parent/infant Mental Health project, I have experienced this first-hand. But things are changing. As part of our service, we aim to support dads to understand attachment and bonding, supporting their own and their family’s mental health and accessing appropriate services.
But there are so many aspects to supporting fathers and how they feel about it. Below I have outlined some of the questions that come up when talking about dads needing help.
Why don’t dads seek out support?
One thing to remember is that men tend to focus on practical issues first, like car seats, or decorating, and this can mean the time it takes to acknowledge their own needs is too long. The other point to consider is that men will seek support, but only if they can see the benefit in reaching out. This means helping them to understand the impact their own wellbeing can have on their family is crucial. Given the right platform, men can and will speak about emotional and mental wellbeing. Many will want support for this, whether that is peer support, professional support or even just resources they can read or view.
Once they have acknowledged the issues they face, most dads will accept help. It’s up to us as services to be able to provide appropriate support.
Are dads afraid to ask for help?
At Dad Matters we don’t think it’s out of fear. Sure there are some instances where dads may be worried about the response to their requests, they may be concerned that they can’t articulate what is bothering them well or they may feel it’s not the right platform to get support from, but overwhelmingly, once dads have acknowledged their own struggles, and have identified an appropriate and comfortable platform to engage with then they will ask for that support. Motivation is also a big factor in how and why dads ask for support. If dads understand the impact negative mental health has on their early relationships with their baby and partner, or how this can affect their child’s development as they grow, then they will access support and information earlier.
Do dads accept support?
Yes once they acknowledge their struggles, but they need to understand the benefits to them and their families before they do something about it. This is where the barriers and gaps appear. Most dads, when asked, will say that their GP is the first place they would go if they are stressed or have issues with low mood. In reality most of those dads will wait until the situation is at crisis level or close to it, and this can cause issues in relationships with partners, children, wider family, work etc.
Dads need to realise early in their parenting, that their wellbeing is important to their family. This is why Dad Matters offer a universal information service, helping to normalise experiences, talk about the things we often don’t recognise as dads and sharing knowledge of parenting that dads might not always have access to. We do it as early as possible so dads have time and space to acknowledge that help might be a positive step, not just for them, but for their whole family.
What are the common things dads need support with?
At Dad Matters a big part of our work is normalising the experiences dads face in the transition to fatherhood. It can be quite an isolating time. Feeling that no-one else experiences these feelings or events can really affect dads mental health and relationships. Understanding the way male parents interact with their families, particularly young babies, and the impact this can have to mums, babies, society and services, is a crucial. We work directly with dads who…
- experience traumatic labours or pregnancies
- are supporting partners with severe perinatal mental illnesses
- are struggling to bond with their babies,
- need support to access the networks and services that are open to them.
By far the most positive engagements we get are around attachment and bonding with babies, including consoling and play, and how to support mums with their mental health. We use these topics to engage with dads about the importance of their own mental health and to access appropriate services and support.
How do dads change once they start accepting support?
In our experience, once dads get access to someone they can speak to, and information about what might help, they are very engaged very quickly. Many dads report feeling much better, more able to cope and better able to pick up on emotional cues in children and partners after just one or two conversations with us. Talking is the first, and most important step, but often it might be the only one dads need to help them work through their issues and plan coping strategies.
How does this benefit their relationship with their children and partners?
When dads are supported the benefits to the family are vast.
- Often they are more able to recognise emotional cues from partners and babies. This supports responsive parenting that we know is vital to baby wellbeing and development.
- They are also more in tune with their own wellbeing and identify wider networks and can access extra support independently.
- They begin to feel part of a wider team, helping them to feel less isolated, more able to access information and peer support, and the stigma around men reaching out is lessened through mutual understanding with other dads.
- Partners feel more supported, especially if they are stuggling. We’ve had mums contact us thanking us for supporting their partners. One mum said “thanks for supporting ***, it’s given me breathing room to concentrate on getting better without worrying that he has no one to talk to.”
Where can dads turn for help?
Dads can get support from so many places, including those professionals who we sometimes feel belong to mums. People such as Midwives, Health Visitors, early education, schools, GPs, adult mental health services etc. All of these services offer successful and appropriate information, advice, therapy support for dads as well as mums.
Dads might prefer a more peer support approach so dads groups, such as Dadvengers, DadAF, Dad Matters, Dads in Mind, Dads Rock, Who let the Dads Out and lots of other local groups providing play, education, and parenting opportunities for dads are great.
There are also men’s talking groups, for men who really need somewhere to open up, to talk about their issues in a structured and supported way; these include Andy’s Man Club, Directions for Men, MenTell, Talk about it mate, and many others in your local area.
Other contacts that might be useful include The DadPad, Mark Williams FMH, We also support LGBTQI+ parents and regularly signpost to Stonewall, Proud 2 b Parents, LGBT foundation. There are also lots and lots of twitter accounts dedicated to perinatal mental health.
Finally Dad Matters can help. Our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all share lot of information, resources and support materials for dads – @dadmattersuk
And our YouTube channel has lots of videos. From dads at play sessions to interviews with organisations, and dads speaking about their own experiences of child birth, partners with mental health issues, looking after babies etc.
If you’d like to find out more head to Dadmatters.org.uk