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New dads get help for anxiety, depression and poor mental health

The HR employee said that, at his lowest point, “I screamed my head off at my son: I was so angry, anything could have happened.”

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To coincide with International Fathers’ Mental Health Day this week, the Gidget Foundation – for whom Edwards is an advocate – will release research showing that, although one in 10 new fathers experiences mental ill-health, more than half (56 per cent) do not seek help.

One in five said parenting was “a balancing act they didn’t think they were doing well” and 11 per cent said the biggest challenge about new parenthood was struggling with mental health.

The research with 1004 people found more than a third (36 per cent) still believed their main responsibility was to “provide for and protect” their family.

The foundation’s senior clinical psychologist, Chris Barnes, said despite more openness about mental health, men who were struggling with perinatal illness might still feel too ashamed or embarrassed to ask for support.

“So many things stop men talking about their mental health, social norms, society’s views that men are meant to be stoic and strong, and stigma that talking about mental ill health is a sign of weakness,” she said.

A lot of men don’t even know they can get perinatal anxiety and depression.

Chris Barnes, clinical psychologist

“There is a lot of judgment and shame about speaking up.

“A lot of men don’t even know they can get perinatal anxiety and depression.”

Symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression may be different in men, and include physical signs such as upset stomach and headaches.

Contributing factors include lack of sleep, routine change, financial instability, unrealistic expectations, adjusting to a new identity and fathers feeling they have “let down” or disappointed loved ones. A sense of failure may contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.

Though it is little known, men also get a hormonal shift after the birth of their baby, Barnes said. This is in the form of reduced testosterone and an increase in the “bonding” hormone, oxytocin, although the link between this and their mental health is unclear.

Julie Borninkhof, chief executive of the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia, said until recently most support systems were focused on mothers “with dads very much left in the background”.

“Many dads feel that they need to be the rock of their family and this can be a barrier to reach out for support. Stigma, fear and not really understanding what you are feeling, are all common barriers.”

In the past year, there has been a 20 per cent increase in fathers phoning PANDA’s helplines, equating to more than 50 calls a week from fathers seeking help and advice.

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Fathers often feel “overlooked or disregarded by medical support teams,” Borninkhof said.

“Dads can feel powerless, unheard, invalidated, and disregarded during their partner’s pregnancy and after birth,” she added.

Both organizations urged new fathers to use support on platforms including SMS4Dads and DadsGroup.

Dave Edwards confirmed that getting help – including from others in a peer support group he started for fathers of babies with reflux – meant he came out of his “stronger” experience.

“It kind of reinforced for me that I wasn’t alone… and there were other guys that wanted a voice too but were too afraid to share their experience,” he said.

“My message for fathers is about them knowing they’re enough, and giving themselves permission to seek support when they’re struggling.”

Contact the Gidget Foundation on 1300 851758.

If you or anyone you know needs support, call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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