Brendon Smith on Father’s Mental Health Day

19 June is Father’s Mental Health Day.

Father’s Mental Health Day was born, excuse the pun, in 2016 by Welshman Mark Williams to increase awareness that men also experience mental health issues leading up to the birth of their children and beyond.

New Zealand recognises that 1 in 10 fathers suffer from postnatal depression. They can also suffer anxiety and depression during the pregnancy period. Recognising when there’s a problem and having access to support is really important, especially for the bonding between father and child.

Suffering in silence can lead to negative coping methods such as alcohol and drug use which can lead to anger and violence. Fathers with a history of mental illness are more likely to be unwell again due to stress of becoming a father and looking after a partner with a perinatal mental health illness. If a father experiences mental illness, this puts a strain on the mother’s mental health and can lead to both partners becoming unwell. And here’s a really sad statistic: Around 2 in 3 fathers who should have received support are no longer together in the family unit.*

So it makes sense to engage with dads, to look out for signs that dad might need help and provide avenues for him to get it. Men’s Health talked to Brendon Smith from the Father and Child Trust about how we do that.

When it comes to providing perinatal support services, Smith says “Families need to be treated as a couple. At every stage of a couple having a baby there are opportunities for dads to be informed and involved. If babies are lost, the mums may get some help, and that’s better than it used to be, but most dads don’t even know they’re allowed to cry. Couples who are supported together last and do better so it’s an injustice if dads are left out.”

Father and Child Trust was set up 20 years ago in Christchurch, and 10 years ago opened a small office in the Onehunga Community Centre. There’s one man at each branch and they have a lot of volunteers. “We’ve got no time to appeal to government for policy change so we do what we can. In our ‘Why Dads?’ booklet, we’re trying to give dads lists of things they can do, information on relationship and hormone changes, postnatal depression, tips for midwives and Plunket ladies, and reasons why they need to engage with dads. You can download it from our website fatherandchild.org.nz.

“I’m 50 plus now, but when I became an at-home-dad of a two month old and two year old in my late thirties, this sort of information would have been useful. Our second birth was very tricky, there were multiple complications, and it was emotionally hard on both of us. The best outcome is when mum gets her help, usually through Maternal Mental Health, a public health service, or Mothers Helpers, a support group for mums, but dad gets some help, preferably from another dad who has been through similar issues.

“Dads get hormone changes too. Around the week before and 2 weeks after baby is born. They’re going to get more of the stress hormone cortisol but they’re also going to get bonding hormones. My advice to expecting dads is this is happening for the first time in your life, you might as well do some reading. The first thing a dad has to do is love his child’s mum. For a lot of first births in Auckland, their family aren’t around, which makes dad doubly important.

“If you are worried or experiencing depression, talk to your midwife. They may refer you to Father and Child or to a maternal mental health team.”

Brendon Smith has been with Father and Child Trust since 2004 and been on the board of PADA for 8 years. PADA, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Aotearoa, is a charity aiming to reduce stigma and improve support for all perinatal mental health issues. Brendon has also formed an alliance with Mark Williams, founder of Father’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Their mission, and that of the Trust, is to provide all fathers with information and support in their role as a parent and together they strive towards a world where fathers and mothers are both supported.

Father and Child’s support services and resources are included at most PADA training days for midwives, Plunket nurses and other maternity care professionals. PADA perform training days all over New Zealand, the next is on 6 July at AUT. Visit pada.nz for details.

International Father’s Mental Health Day is on 19 June. Show your support and #MenStartTalking.

For more information, check out these useful links:

International Father’s Mental Health Day Facebook
Postpartum Support International / International Father’s Mental Health Day
Father and Child Trust Website
Why Dads?
Father and Child Trust Facebook
PADA
Maternal Mental Health directory
*Fathers Reaching Out

Brendon Smith