Perinatal mental health for dads
Monitoring the wellbeing and mental health of new parents should include both new mums and new dads. Both are at risk of stress, depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after having a baby. Screening and support services ideally include dads as well – talking to your GP or calling the free PANDA National Helpline are good first steps to learning more as having a baby can be tough for dad’s mental health too.
At least 1 in 10 new dads will be diagnosed with postnatal depression, separately from their partner’s health. And that’s just the ones we know about – it is believed there are many more who are not currently identified meaning they can be suffering in silence. Dads – please understand that postnatal depression is not just a mums’ illness and it’s not ‘just because of their hormones’. New mums also need information about their mental health during the perinatal period so they can be aware if they are not doing well, as early as possible and can look to seek help. The PANDA website can be a great first step for information and real life stories from new mums.
Where a new mum has postnatal depression the new dad becomes her carer. Dads are usually the first to notice something is changing in their partner so its great if you are aware of perinatal anxiety and depression so you can step in if you feel you need to. Of the 70,000 Australian mums who are diagnosed with antenatal and postnatal depression their partners are no doubt bearing a load in the family, at home as well as at work. For some men this change can be incredibly hard and dad may need some assistance whilst learning how to be a mental health carer.
Dad’s self care
Dad’s are an important part of the family yet it is often noted that men don’t always take care of themselves. Reportedly there is a low prevalence of men seeking treatment from GPs and other health professionals and men are also less likely to have strong social networks that provide them with support for their physical and mental health problems.Together this can lead to men being at higher risk with Mental health problems often being masked by other health risk behaviours that tend to occur more frequently amongst men, including alcohol and drug abuse, anger and aggression, speeding on roads and drink driving.
Now that you are a father, your wellbeing is closely tied to your new baby and your family. ‘How is Dad Going?’ has been developed to encourage you to look after yourself – so that you are OK. For some this might mean re-thinking your idea of what it means to be a man, as looking after yourself is important to us all.
The first year of being a parent can be have a steep learning curve and sometimes you’ll have really stressful moments and tough days. Over time you will probably forget the bad times and remember the really special moments, however if you don’t look after yourself, the stress will continue to build up.
So for your wellbeing, your baby and your partner, have a try of these self-care tips:
Unload whatever is on your mind with someone non-judgemental, who you trust. It’s ok to want to talk about your thoughts and feelings. Debriefing can help realign perspective as to what’s important and any next steps you may want to think about taking
Rest – catch-up sleep
The experts tell us you need sleep as much as you need to breathe and eat, making sleep very important, and a new baby can disrupt even the best sleepers routine! When you’re deprived of sleep your brain can’t function properly which can affect your cognitive abilities and your emotional state. If you and/or your partner are sleep deprived, try and take turns to rest and sleep. Don’t put off going to bed – rest when you can, sleep when baby sleeps, and prioritise your rest.
R&R is different for everyone. It may be fishing, football, exercise, reading the paper or playing your favourite music and before baby you probably had time to unwind in different ways. For now, you may need to organise, negotiate and prioritise this important part of your life. Equally, your partner will also need to be encouraged to have some time for R&R.