International Fathers’ Mental Health Day: How To Look Out For Your Loved Ones

On 21st June 2021, International Fathers’ Mental Health Day will raise awareness globally about the need to get better support for dads. Around 10% of fathers can experience mental health problems in the first year following the birth of their child. Due to the societal stigma of the masculine gender through history, they often suffer in silence. The UK campaign is led by Dr Andrew Mayers, a mental health campaigner and educator at Bournemouth University.

International Fathers’ Mental Health Day was founded in the UK by Mark Williams in 2016. Each year, the take-home message is to remember that if dad is the only one struggling, it will impact the whole family, if unsupported. On the day, a series of blogs, stories, and resources are shared by charities, support groups, health professionals, and families. All who have experienced the impact of poor mental health in fathers.

Dr Mayers’ work focuses on aiming to get better mental health support for mothers and fathers. It is particularly motivated to source more help for dads, as they are not receiving the support they need. The causes of mental health problems, such as postnatal depression, are every bit as relevant for dads as they are for mums. The perception is that postnatal depression is hormonal, so could not possibly affect fathers. Hormones only play a small part. Other factors like social support, poverty, relationships changes, and education are better predictors.

NHS England: Moving In The Right Direction

In December 2018, NHS England announced major support for fathers’ mental health. This was a result of the campaigning and fundraising carried out by International Fathers’ Mental Health Day. In January 2019, it was also announced that fathers will be included in the NHS Long Term Plan announced. Following some lengthy delays, in May 2021, NHS England proposed that fathers would now be screened for their mental health.

There is still a long way to go, but this is fantastic progress in 5 years. Although fathers will be screened for mental health, the mother will be referred to NHS perinatal mental health services. This illustrates a few gaps in how fathers will be identified and supported.

  • Many mothers are not referred to those NHS perinatal mental health services or do not meet the criteria for inclusion. In those cases, the fathers are missed.
  • Fathers can develop poor postnatal mental health independently of the mother. Those fathers are also missed.
  • Fathers who witness their partner’s birth trauma are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if not supported. This was not accounted for by NHS England.
  • By definition, this help and support is just for England. What about fathers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? We are part of the United Kingdom.

Signs And Symptoms: What To Look Out For In Your Loved Ones

Learning about developing symptoms, or early warning signs, and taking action can help. Early intervention can help reduce the severity of an illness and help them to address their mental health sooner, rather than later. If several of the following are occurring, it may be useful to follow up with a mental health professional at WellBe, we will be more than happy to help.

  • Sleep or appetite changes: dramatic sleep/appetite changes or decline in personal care.
  • Mood changes: rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings.
  • Withdrawal: recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
  • A drop in functioning: an unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities. This could involve quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks.
  • Problems thinking: problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.
  • Increased sensitivity: heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch. And avoidance of over-stimulating situations.
  • Apathy: loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity.
  • Feeling disconnected: a vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.
  • Illogical thinking: unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events. Illogical or magical thinking typical of childhood in an adult.
  • Nervousness: fear or suspiciousness of others, or a strong nervous feeling.
  • Unusual behaviour: odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behaviour.

Men Vs Women: What Are The Differences?

Women

  • Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men (29% to 17%). As women are more likely to report symptoms of common mental health problems.
  • Depression is more common in women than men. 1 in 4 women will need treatment for depression at some time, compared to 1 in 10 men. Depression in men is under-diagnosed as they present different symptoms to a GP. These tend to be physical or stress-related.
  • Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. Of people with phobias or Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), about 60% are female.

Men

  • Three times as many men as women die by suicide (men aged 40–49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK).
  • Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women according to the Government’s national wellbeing survey.
  • Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women. Only 36% of referrals to the NHS, talking therapies are for men.
  • Nearly three-quarters of adults who go missing are men.
  • 87% of rough sleepers are men.
  • Men are nearly three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol, and three times as likely to report frequent drug use.
  • Men are more likely to be compulsorily detained (or ‘sectioned’) for treatment than women.
  • Men are more likely to be victims of violent crime (1.5 times more likely than women).

Reaching In Is As Important As Reaching Out: Why Don’t Men Talk About Mental Health?

Traditional gender roles play a role in why men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems. We know that gender stereotypes about women, the idea they should behave or look a certain way, for example, can be damaging to them. Men are also damaged by stereotypes and expectations.

Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and be strong and dominant. These can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up. Men who can’t speak openly about emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves. They are also less likely to reach out for support.

Men may also be more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as drugs or alcohol. They are also less likely to talk to family or friends about their mental health. But, there is research to suggest that men will access help when they feel it meets their preferences. Especially when it can be easily accessed, meaningful, and engaging.

It Is Okay, To Not Be Okay: 8 Ways To Look After Your Mental Health

  1. Take care of yourself

It is important to take care of your physical health as this can affect the mind. Trying to keep a balanced diet whilst also drinking plenty of water can help energy levels. Things like junk food, alcohol and some non-prescribed drugs can leave you feeling down.

2. Exercise

Your mood is affected by chemicals in the body. Exercise releases positive hormones that increase your concentration, improve mood and aid sleep.

3. Sleep and rest

Your bodies heal when you sleep and it is often easier to drift off when your mind is well-rested. Therefore, take some time out during the day for a brisk walk or to meditate, anything you consider a break from your chores.

4. Mindfulness

Thinking deeply about the past or worrying about the future is a constant drain on energy levels. To live in the moment, learn how to be mindful. A very powerful skill once acquired.

5. Engage in activities

Being part of a network of people who all help one another is uplifting in its own right. Try to give your time and attention to other people in a personal, professional or voluntary role. It will make you feel better about yourself as well as feel less isolated.

6. Be kind to yourself

Be aware of your critical voice. When you are anxious or depressed, a voice may tell you negative things about yourself. Be aware of this and notice the way that makes you feel and how it affects your behaviour. Know that you can choose to do something different.

7. Socialising

If you are kind to yourself it encourages others to treat you in the same way. Surround yourself with positive people who are there for you when you need them most. Just the connection with people who care can be all the comfort you need at times.

8. Accept help

No matter how hard you try to live a healthy and self-compassionate life there will always be a time when you need help. Let close friends or family help you work through a problem. Be open and talk to others.

We Rise By Lifting Others: Tips To Help Your Struggling Loved One

  • Learn a little bit about mental health

Learning about the signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions can help you understand what behaviour to look out for.

  • Take a deep breath and think about what not to say

Take the time to think about what type of conversation you don’t want to have. Thinking about what not to say can also help you to put yourself in the other person’s position. Approach the conversation carefully and caringly.

  • Prepare to ask how things are and to listen genuinely to the response

It is important not to be afraid of speaking to your loved ones about their mental health and wellbeing. Speak to them normally, remembering that you know them well and are well-placed to notice when things are not right.

  • Avoid sounding as though you are providing a diagnosis

Although you may have information on mental health conditions and symptoms. It is important to avoid the assumption that you have already ‘diagnosed’ them.

  • Do what you can to help

While your loved one must take independent steps towards mental wellbeing, offering to do small things can help. This can involve offering to cook a meal or tidying up their house.

  • Suggest tracking feelings and symptoms each day

When someone is experiencing a mental health problem, it can be hard to get the perspective to understand what is wrong. Encourage your loved one to keep track of how they are doing day-to-day. This will help them to build up valuable self-knowledge that could be key to their recovery.

  • Giving support in sourcing professional help

Getting help can be a huge step towards recovery, but it can also be a very difficult process. As for many people, it can mean admitting there is an issue and dealing with the fear of being judged or not believed/understood.

Useful Links

Dads Matter UK — supporting dads and mums suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

Hub of Hope — provided by mental health charity, Chasing the Stigma, they bring local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health support and services together.

Men’s Health Forum — all men are provided with the information, services and treatments they need to live healthier, longer and more fulfilling lives.

PANDAS — the UK’s most recognised and trusted support service for families who may be suffering from perinatal mental illness, including prenatal (antenatal) and postnatal depression.

Samaritans — a registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide.

Written by Lewis Bridges

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