By Charvi Koul
Member, Creative Department
When it comes to parenting, a mother’s physical as well as emotional health is given great importance during childbirth. However, expecting fathers are almost always overlooked and their mental health is hardly seen as a concern. While it may be believed that fathers don’t have – or aren’t supposed to have – a share in the emotional trials of childbirth, research says that about 10% of fathers experience mental health issues such as depression after childbirth. One out of ten fathers suffer from Paternal Postpartum Depression and yet there is very little-if any-support and information on mental health available for them (Bazemore & Paulson, 2010). This furthermore creates barriers and hesitance amongst fathers when it comes to recognising their mental health issues and seeking help.
Becoming a father can be quite overwhelming. Not only does one have to step into new roles and change their lifestyle, but they also have to shoulder the responsibility of providing for the family. Often, fathers may be the sole breadwinners, increasing the stress and pressure on them. Due to the prevailing stigma regarding the mental health of men, fathers are unlikely to seek help, letting their anxiety, stress or depression build up over time. Depression and anxiety can then manifest in different ways such as aggression, irritability, self-isolation, increased substance abuse, and physical symptoms like gastrointestinal problems and headaches. It’s important to recognise these symptoms and seek help in time since mental distress can escalate, leading to suicide.
Fathers play a huge role in a family, whether it’s supporting mothers emotionally and financially or helping in the development of the children. Hence the mental health of fathers affects the family as a unit. Acknowledging the stress or mental illness would be the first step in the right direction, followed by support and understanding from the family and loved ones. In cases of stress, over exhaustion or feelings of being overwhelmed, simply taking out time for oneself by engaging in a hobby, picking up meditation or exercising and taking in fresh air might help. However consulting a mental health professional is very important and if necessary, therapy or medication should be undertaken.
Sadly, there also seems to be a dearth of information and support from society and professionals when it comes to the mental health of fathers. Most fathers are unable to get any helpful information regarding their postnatal mental health and mental health professionals are usually unsympathetic and do not take them seriously. More awareness needs to be created about how childbirth affects the mental health of not only mothers but fathers as well. New fathers are incredibly susceptible to mental illness, hence mental health specialists also need to be educated on this and we must work on destigmatising them. Health workers must assure fathers that they need and deserve mental health support and not only give them more information and support guidelines but also connect them to fathers support groups. Support groups can be great for sharing experiences, giving and taking advice as well as just having someone who can listen. As a preventive measure, we should also work towards building the confidence of future fathers and normalizing fathers’ emotional and physical involvement in the birth and development of their children, by providing them with more information regarding childbirth and taking care of a child.
The transition to parenthood is a tough one and both mothers and fathers must receive the support and mental health care they need. Being a father comes with its own responsibilities so the least we can do to help is make sure that fathers have all the encouragement and support from society and health specialists they need to take care of themselves and develop into healthy fathers for their children.
International fathers’ mental health day. (n.d.). Centre for Perinatal Psychology. https://www.centreforperinatalpsychology.com.au/international-fathers-mental-health-day/
Mayers, A. (2020). Fathers’ mental health: Why is it important? BMC Series blog. https://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcseriesblog/2020/06/22/fathers-mental-health-why-is-it-important/
Mental health care for dads. (2019, February 19). MindWise. https://www.mindwise.org/blog/mental-health/mental-health-care-for-dads/
Paulson, J. F., & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression. JAMA, 303(19). https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.605
Promoting fathers’ mental health during children’s early childhood. (n.d.). NICHQ – National Institute for Children’s Health Quality. https://www.nichq.org/insight/promoting-fathers-mental-health-during-childrens-early-childhood