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BY ELLIOTT RAE | 

We Need To Normalise Talking About Our Mental Health’

Earlier this week, the BBC broadcast my documentary ‘Becoming Dad’. Making the documentary was one of the most challenging, enlightening, difficult, but amazing things I have done in my life.

It was, at times, challenging because my family and I had to relive some of the most difficult moments in our lives. Watching my wife talk about our daughter’s birth still makes me feel very emotional.

Our daughter was born with an infection called Group B Strep. It’s a serious infection, which one in nineteen babies will die from and another one in fourteen will develop a serious life-long disability. When our daughter was born she was grey and lifeless and needed to be resuscitated. My wife was also in a bad way and lost a lot of blood. We spent 10 days in intensive care. These were the most difficult ten days of our lives.

After we returned home from the hospital, I had a few days at home and then it was back to work. Back to normal. But having experienced the most traumatic days of my life, I found the world kept on spinning and I had a job to do at home, and at work.

I struggled to accept, understand or process what had happened during my daughter’s birth. I would cry on the way home from work, have out of body experiences in work meetings, and suffer from insomnia. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.

My experience led me to set-up my support group for dads, called MusicFootballFatherhood. And it is through that work that I have met so many more dads who have experienced a similar thing.

I now know that one in ten dads will experience some symptoms of postnatal depression in the first six months of their babies life and as many as 5% of new dads will develop PTSD after witnessing their child’s traumatic birth. These numbers are high. And the impact on poor mental health for new dads can have devastating consequences for the whole family.

When dads experience poor mental health, they can struggle to bond with their baby, support their partner and maintain a productive work schedule. New dads are at the highest risk of experiencing suicidal ideation than at any other time in their lives.

Often, new dads don’t seek professional help or talk to anyone about what they are experiencing. I didn’t.

The challenge we all have is to normalise men and dads speaking about their mental health. We need to do more to help men to move away from the traditional, outdated and frankly harmful ideas of being a man.

Those ideas mean that we feel that we can’t seek help or support, that we have to be stoic and deal with all our problems ourselves. Those ideas mean that we feel pressure to be the breadwinner in the house and that we can’t work part-time or take extended paternity leave.

So, what can we all do to help? Well, on an individual level we can all do the work to increase our understanding of dad’s perinatal mental health. And we can work on building deeper and more vulnerable relationships with our male friends, colleagues and family members. We can have open and non-judgemental conversations, listen and be a source of comfort and support.

More widely, we need reform through the NHS where dads are better engaged and supported through the maternity process. Some NHS Trusts do this really well, like Greater Manchester where they have an integrated service called Dad Matters, but we need a consistent approach across the whole country.

We also need properly paid paternity leave and flexible jobs as the default. These asks where at the core of the recent March of the Mummies protest held by Pregnant Then Screwed. Supporting dads to be active, involved and healthy fathers is beneficial for the whole family and for society as a whole.

My documentary ‘Becoming Dad’ reflects on all these issues, and to help bring these conversations to the mainstream and highlight dad’s experiences is such a privilege.

November, Movember and International Men’s Day is the perfect opportunity for us all to continue the conversation and think about what we can do to support new dads and create a better world for us all.

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