Scott’s story: Understanding the importance of mental health for new dads
Having had a career as an infantry soldier, going into fatherhood I thought I was able to handle any situation and cope with it. Being ex-military, my views on mental health were probably very extreme because I felt like I was programmed to be a certain way. It's this ‘pain is weakness leaving the body’ mindset that makes me cringe now, but that’s the way I was used to thinking as a soldier. This all changed after traumatic events during the birth of my sixth child. My wife and son nearly died due to complications during labour and afterwards I suffered with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and anxiety.
The impact of birth trauma on paternal mental health is something I was completely unprepared for and something I did not think could not affect men. When I started experiencing these mental health problems myself, I didn’t understand it. I believe it’s hard to understand the impact that a mental health issue can have on you, until you have experienced it yourself. You can read 100 books, but you’ll never fully understand parts of it unless you’ve been through it. When I was struggling with my mental health in the perinatal period, I did not know what was wrong and there seems to be a complete lack of awareness on the subject in general.
The turning point...
Seeing another dad, Mark Williams, speak out publicly on this topic was a real turning point for me. That was when I began to understand the need for fathers to seek support if they are struggling. When I couldn’t find this support, I decided to set up my own supportive Instagram account called PMH support (Paternal Mental Health support). Through this account I try to promote the importance of acknowledging paternal mental health while also offering parenting hints and tips I have picked up over my 18 years of parenting! I believe that hearing other dads speak out on this topic is important, the more we talk and communicate, the more dads will feel included in the conversation.
I am a mental health advocate and campaigner, working locally and nationally speaking to expectant parents. I am a member of the Paternal Mental Health Alliance, peer to peer leader trained and a Beyond Birth wellbeing practitioner. I am part of the perinatal CIC where I help to co- produce and work as a team deliver training to professionals on paternal mental health.
For any dads out there who are struggling I think that the first and important piece of advice I can give, is to try to communicate how you are feeling. This can be with your partner, friend, health visitor or GP. Please don’t feel you are alone as there is help available if you need it.
It is really important that parents are made aware of signs and symptoms that can signal issues with your mental health and to look after yourself. Some dads might feel guilty and think that this is something ‘men don’t do’. In reality, mental health affects us all in different ways and it’s important to identify things that can help us stay well.
There are a few things that I have tried and currently use to help take care of my wellbeing. I appreciate not everything will work for everyone, but the important thing is listening to what you, as an individual, need.
Things that help me support my mental health:
- Mindful breathing techniques can help calm you if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed.
- Going for a walk can help clear your mind.
- Getting up earlier than the household and just enjoying a cup of tea of coffee in peace and quiet.
- Exercising can be great if you enjoy it and can find the time.
- Listening to some of your favourite music and practising some breathing techniques.
Please remember to be kind to yourself. If you are struggling right now with your mental health, you will get through this with help and support.
Here is just a few of the support organisations available if you are struggling with your mental health:
Your mental health matters and you matter most.