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How is Dad going? PND and fathers

Depressed father ready for work and holding baby“I just want to support her, she’s the mum.”

“The little one’s doing well, that’s the main thing.”

“You just have to get on with it.”

“I work really hard, then I get home and there’s more work.”

“I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t – whatever I do is not good enough.”

“My dad says it was so different then.”

“She’s all about the baby, not about me anymore.”

This is just a sample of what dads have said to me across the years I’ve been working as a psychiatrist around pregnancy and early family life. I’m called a perinatal psychiatrist; I’m a doctor whose job is helping families get started in good mental health – feeling well in their heads and hearts.

Some of the dads I’ve seen had diagnosed postnatal depression; many had undiagnosed PND (their partners were my patients and they hadn’t sought help for themselves); most of the dads were having a hard time as they came to grips with fatherhood.

When does having a hard time become a mental health problem?

As a rough guide: when it’s nothing but hard; when there’s no fun left; when you’re suffering most days in your body and your mind. Most commonly I find dads struggle when there’s a mismatch between the burden the household is under (eg. sleep deprivation, work stress, physical illness, financial stress, grief) and the household’s resources (eg. skills, time, money, energy, help from family and friends or professionals). The books don’t balance, and although dads usually dig deep within themselves to make up the difference, they pay a price.

Unless something changes, they’re headed for crisis.

‘Women and children first’ is the old saying in a crisis – on the Titanic, for example – and it’s still somewhat true. Mums and babies and siblings are screened universally and are far more likely to see the inside of a clinician’s office than dads. And yet, throughout my years in this work, I’m reminded time and time again just how important dads are to life and wellbeing in their families.

The more dads I see, the more I see how feeling good about the kind of dad you are affects feeling good about yourself overall. A healthy dad is a healthy man, who more than likely has a healthy family.

The same is true in hard times too. A suffering dad means a suffering man and probably a suffering family too. Dads often say they’re putting their family first, as a reason not to care for themselves, but believe me, that doesn’t work. If you don’t look after yourself, soon enough those you love and care for will lose out as well as you.

FORUM: You can chat and find support in our Dads’ Chat forum section

So, how do you know if you need help?

Again, as a rough guide, go with your gut first. Do you feel confident of things improving without help? Are you sometimes overwhelmed? Are you coping in ways that get you through the day (or night) but that you’ll pay for down the track? And if your gut isn’t bothered, but people around you are, could they be right?

Having worked out that you need help, how should you go about getting it? This can seem like a big barrier, but please don’t let it stop you. I can’t state this strongly enough: When you get the right help the difference it makes can be massive, and everyone in your house can benefit.

What you can do:

  • Tell your partner, a trusted friend or family member – two brains on the case are usually better than one.
  • See a good GP – Book a ‘long consult’ so there’s time to explain what’s going on and work out a plan.
  • Call or connect online with great resources like PANDA (1300 726 306), BeyondBlue, Mensline or Lifeline (13 11 14) – Don’t just ask ‘Dr Google’, who has a very big brain but no people skills! Use the internet to find an actual person qualified to help you.

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7 comments so far -

  1. Thank you for sharing this piece! The mental health of dads is far to often ignored by services, and by people in general. But post-birth depression, the anxiety and stress of such a big life change, it affects men just the same as women. But too often men don’t reach out, and if they do, they are met with a typical response about manhood and growing a pair.

    It’s important for dads to be able to recognize that things may not be as they seem, and do what they need to and get support and help, We do have families to take care of, yes. But we still have ourselves. And if we don’t help ourselves, we can’t be of much help to others.

  2. Thank you so much for acknowledging a huge and common issue that is often ignored and swept under the rug. My husband suffered terribly after the birth of our first child. Soon after our son was born my husbands mother encouraged us to move interstate to be closer to them and offered us a seemingly fantastic business venture. The business was a sham and an unashamed attempt by his mother and step father to have us uproot our lives to suit themselves. It left is in a financial mess and it was the catalyst for my husbands battle with depression. I think Dad’s slip through the support network as the battles they contend with post natally are often mistaken for typical sleep deprivation, financial stress, the increase in chores and everything else as discussed in this article. They tend to cloud the judgement of all of those around you. It is just put down to the perils of becoming a parent and in the meantime, the person suffering slips deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit. I will never forget the day I asked my husband outright if he felt depressed and his response was that every day since we had moved, he had contemplated suicide. I knew he was depressed but had absolutely no idea as to the depths of his despair. When I turned to his family for help and support, his mothers response was to call him and tell him to get over it & that he belonged in a mental institution! These dads’s are not mental, they are just typical tough guys with a heart of gold and they have the desire to be the best provider and partner that they can possibly be. Sometimes life throws those curve balls at us all and like my husband, some Dad’s just don’t feel they have the right to breakdown and admit that they are struggling. And sadly when they do reach out, they are yet again dismissed. Thank you Dr Roberts for shedding light on such a sensitive subject. Our GP was fantastic in getting my husband diagnosed quickly and treated. She knew straight away what was going on and gave us all magnificent support. I hope you can continue to share the awareness 🙂

  3. It didn’t happen to me but it happened to a friend, she had her 2 child under 2 and her husbands new business wasn’t going too well, he didn’t have any close friends since they only had recently moved to the suburb 8 months earlier. On the outside he seemed friendly and happy but I sensed that there was something more pressing, just by mannerisms.
    2 weeks later he committed suicide. Why we’ll never know no note but The rent hadn’t been paid for 6 months the business had not been doing well. He felt like a failure unable to provide for his family and he’d previously been the bread winner.
    Guys don’t like to think they can’t care for their new family and so now the children are without a dad and the wife without a husband. It’s important as a family to talk about issues that effect the family no matter how small or big. Getting it off your chest letting the air out working out a plan of attack all help. No-one even the dad should be expected to burden and shoulder all the issues even if they think that we mums are doing it tough & need some help we need to know if dads aren’t coping. No family should end up without a Dad.No one deserves to be a widow.

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