Fatherhood and Mental Health

Pic attr: Eric Rosati

Something out of the ordinary today, People may or may not notice that I haven't written anything in a while. This is partly because there hasn't been anything I've been especially interested to write about and partly because I haven't had the time to write due to becoming a new father at the beginning of the year. Whilst overall it has been a hugely positive experience for me there have been some things that I feel warrant some more attention so I'm going to use my (incredibly small) platform to raise a little awareness.

For me, gaming has always been about escapism; For those few hours both physically and mentally you can be somewhere else, not weighed down by the pressures of 'real life' and instead having an outlet for your creativity and frustrations. Hobbies of all kinds are important for ones mental health - In today's society where many young men are trying to find their place in a world that frankly, hasn't been designed with people's mental well-being in mind, and where traditional gender roles have become outdated even in my lifetime, it is probably more important than ever to have these outlets where on the one hand, society tells us that men should be silent stoic pillars of strength and on the other, should be sensitive and open about their issues.

The need for these kinds of outlets has never been more required for me then over the past year: Going through the second year of the pandemic, adopting a puppy, my partner and I falling pregnant for the first time, raising a newborn and moving home in the backdrop of the cost of living crisis in the UK and now the prospect of a potential war with Russia over Ukraine; It certainly feels like a lot of 'stuff' has happened in my life that I am not totally in control over. Parenthood in particular has been more challenging then I thought it would be; Not physically (though definitely the sleepless nights haven't been helping), but mentally. I feel like people who have had children already are either so traumatised that they lie about their experiences or genuinely have some sort of amnesia about the whole affair. For a new father, the pregnancy and birth was a very surreal experience. After finding out that the baby is coming, and deciding that you want it to come (which is a different matter entirely), you largely have nine months of life being on auto-pilot with things just happening to you cumulating in the birth of a baby during which you are again mostly only along for the ride (despite what the pre-natal classes tell you about how important your job is at the hospital). This followed by my in-laws living in with us for the best part of three months to help with the baby which though again, physically has been a huge help but mentally has been extremely draining with the total lack of privacy and the need to constantly be on 'best behaviour' to avoid losing face in-front of them. It's only now, after my daughter is two months old, the novelty has largely worn off with visitors, we are starting some sort of a routine and baby is able to interact with us for the first time as opposed to just crying, that things are beginning to settle.

It is little wonder then, that post-natal depression affects not only women, but their partners also. Between lack of sleep, money issues, and the shifting of focus and responsibilities in your relationship, dads also have a lot to take on board. This is a huge life change for both parents. On top of this, dads might feel guilty about what their partner is going through, knowing they aren’t the ones breastfeeding at all hours of the morning, healing from labour, or simply not being able to be there for support due to the woeful nature of paternity leave (to give some context; in the UK a woman's maternity leave pay largely dries up after six weeks and a man's paternity allowance is only two so you are invariably in the situation where household income has halved during an already tough time). A study carried out in 2016 revealed that 8% of men go experience some sort of mental health issues after birth but the head researcher conceded that the figure is probably closer to 22% due to screening methods not being as reliable when applied to men. Over here in the UK, a National Childbirth Trust (NCT) survey of new parents in 2015 found that about one in three fathers said they were concerned about their mental health.

I can't say for sure if I would go so far as to say that I have been affected by post natal depression, and I recognise that I have been very lucky to have a strong family support network around me but definitely I can feel the pressures of life and the strain it has put on my various relationships. So going back to my original point; In a world where men might not be able, through lack of perceived support, or societal pressures, talk about their issues, the best advice that I was given by my father on becoming a dad was to every now and again to take some time out for myself so that I am more able to mentally face whatever challenges parenthood would bring, and to be willing to offer my partner the same courtesy. Of course for me, this is where my various hobbies come in (which also includes writing here as a creative outlet). It's been said of course that modelling and painting are therapeutic and just being able to do something else for a couple of hours with some friends goes a long way to help restoring some sense of normality in life. I am by no means an expert of course but being able to take some time out and being able to give to my partner in turn (by taking baby for an evening with a couple of expressed bottles whilst she went out with her mum) I think has really helped the both of us.

My thoughts aside, I do want to say that while it is normal to feel tired and anxious as a new parent, if you’ve been feeling really down and it’s getting too much then it is probably time to talk to someone about it. I recently found out (something that wasn't advertised anywhere) that the mental health services available to my wife were also there for me if I needed them so something that I would advise any new dad to do is ask their health-worker for the baby what services are there for them if they need help also.

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