Gary said: “It’s sad but true that the mental health of fathers is too often overlooked and I know this can be the case even in the period before the child is born and then during the first year. This first year of a baby’s life is a really important time and it should be so happy but without the right support, mental health issues can make it all so hard.”
Gary knows from his own experience that as well as experiencing difficulties with their own mental health and managing the pressures that come with being a new parent, some new fathers and partners need to support the mum with any mental health problems they might have. He believes his partner never received the right support for her mental health after their youngest son was born. He thinks that checking in on parents’ mental health as part of the routine visits or appointments carried out after a baby is born is vital. As a dad who struggles with his own mental health, Gary explains that while he feels a responsibility to support his partner and family, he also believes there should be more support available to help parents to do this. His partner had a difficult and painful first pregnancy and he was very concerned about her health. Her second pregnancy was also a stressful time.
“I believe my partner suffered from some kind of post-natal depression (PND) after her first pregnancy and I don’t feel there was enough checking up on her mental health afterwards. I suffer from mental health difficulties myself, which my partner has supported me through, so I recognised some of her symptoms as similar to the things I do when I’m struggling. I noticed over those first few months she was avoiding questions, and she was crying frequently – anything to do with ‘real life’ on TV and she would burst into tears.
“We talked about it together and I made sure she knew I understood she wasn’t feeling like her usual self. Some dads in my age group might not know what to do if they or their partner is struggling after a baby arrives - My experience and awareness of mental health aren’t a given for all new parents.
“As a family, our approach is to rally together in difficult times, so that’s what we did, with little-to-no outside help. We tend to feel like we want to be responsible for ourselves but it still would have helped to have been asked how we were coping.”
As a father of a child born during lockdown, Gary acknowledges the difficulties that can result from this. He continued: “Many new parents have had a really tough time recently as they have not been able to get the usual help from family and friends. But for those parents experiencing perinatal mental health issues, it has been so difficult. The restrictions in place during the last year have made it much harder to identify mothers, fathers and partners in need of support. Many people have struggled in silence while others have not been able to access the mental health services they need. Some may have been more reluctant to ask for help and their sense of isolation may have been greater because of all the social distancing restrictions. That’s why I believe that giving parents confidence to seek support, reassuring them they aren’t alone and making them aware of the services available to them is really important – now more than ever.”
There is extensive evidence showing that the quality of early experiences and relationships set the foundation for future health and wellbeing and as we move towards recovery from the pandemic, it is crucial that no parent or baby is left behind and the services they need are there to support them – wherever they live. The good news is that with the right kind of early help and support, the impact of poor mental health can be avoided or overcome and positive outcomes for the family are possible.
“Sometimes it looks as though other fathers are coping so well, having no problems and that can make it hard to speak out and say that you’re having a really tough time. I know this from experience but I also know that a lot of people are suffering in silence. I found out about NSPCC’s Fight for a Fair Start campaign through my work with The Dad’s Project, an initiative in Northern Ireland that has supported me with my mental health, related to being a separated dad from my older children.
“I’m now currently training to be able to offer mental health support to other dads. Father’s Day can be such a happy day but also hard for fathers who aren’t able to be with their children, people who have lost their father recently and also for those who have mental health issues. My Father’s Day wish is to urge anyone with difficulties like this to speak out and I would also encourage everyone to look out for each other. Sometimes, just asking if a dad is okay and how they’re doing, can give them the opportunity to speak out and that can make all the difference.”
NSPCC Northern Ireland is asking for continued support for our Fight for a Fair Start campaign, and are calling on the public to back our petition for change. Over 1,000 people in Northern Ireland have already taken action to support our campaign asking that all families have access to the support that parents and babies need for a healthy and happy start in life.
For more information on Fight for a Fair Start, visit: www.nspcc.org.uk/support-us/campaigns/fight-for-a-fair-start
Gary’s story is featured in an NSPCC video which highlights some of the issues experienced by new parents.