Today is the 10th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, designed to bring positive change for people living with mental health issues. This year’s theme, Mental Health: Every Action Counts, is a valuable reminder that we all can make contributions to improving mental health across the country.
As dads, this topic certainly doesn’t get much airtime. The stigma surrounding mental health issues of any kind is challenging, let alone for most men. A 2019 research study from Movember has found that mental health is the most difficult topic (other than sex) for men to discuss with friends – beating out finances and marriage/relationships. A key excerpt from the introduction states:
“Becoming a father is life changing. However, while it can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences, until recently it hasn’t been acknowledged how challenging that transition can be for new fathers, especially regarding their mental health.
It is thought that up to one in 10 new fathers experience depression after the birth of their baby.1 And fathers with perinatal mental health problems are 47 times more likely to be considered at risk of suicide than at any other point in their lives.”21 Eddy et al, 2019 (USA)
2 Quevedo et al, 2011 (Brazil)
To get people talking about dads and mental health, we’d like to share findings from the research report. We hope it brings education, stimulates kindness, promotes listening and asking questions, and fuels future conversations about this important topic. After all, every action counts, right?
For a full copy of the report, click here. The findings and insights from the Executive Summary are:
- Becoming a father can be a stressful experience. Seven in ten (70%) fathers say that their stress levels increased in the 12 months after becoming a father for the first time.
- Becoming a father can be an isolating experience. Almost a quarter (23%) of dads say they felt isolated when they first became a father.
- Becoming a father can influence men’s behaviours which negatively impacts their physical health. Over half (56%) of dads say that they experienced at least one negative health behaviour in the 12 months after becoming a father for the first time.
- Men are feeling pressured to be good fathers. 67% of soon-to-be fathers, 53% of current fathers and 50% of all men say that men are under more pressure nowadays to be good fathers.
- Having close friends is important for fathers’ mental health. Fathers without close friends are more likely to experience increased stress levels in the first 12 months of becoming a father (33% say their stress levels increased a lot compared with 23% of all men with at least one close friend).
- The quality of friendships is also important. Fathers who are dissatisfied with the quality of their friendships are more likely to experience increased stress levels after becoming a father, not handle this stress well, feel that no-one was looking out for them and feel isolated.
- Some men lose friendships as they enter fatherhood. A fifth (20%) of fathers say that the number of close friends they had decreased in the 12 months after becoming a father.
- Men (and fathers) don’t always recognise the importance of close friendships. When asked to choose three very important aspects of their lives, less than a fifth of men (18%) say that having close friends is very important to them.
- There is a sizeable group of men who say they are satisfied with their friendships yet who could not or would not talk to their friends about their problems. Over half (51%) of men who could not or would not talk to their friends about their problems are satisfied with the quality of their friendships.
- Men can find it difficult to talk about problems with their friends, such as mental health. 18% of men (and 16% of fathers) say they could not, or would not, talk to a friend about problems they were finding it hard to cope with.
- Satisfaction with friendships is lowest during middle years. 43% of both 55+ year old’s and 18-34 year old’s say they are very satisfied with the quality of their friendships, compared with 34% of 35-54 year old’s.
- The pressures of being a father are more likely to affect young fathers. They are more likely to say they felt isolated when first becoming a dad (40% of 18-35 year old fathers compared to 11% of 55+ year old fathers) and they are more likely to say their stress levels increased a lot in the first 12 months of becoming a father (29% vs. 17%).
The main focus of this research was to identify the ways that social supports can help fathers during this period of transition. The report states a powerful, yet simple principle about the value this can bring to everyone involved:
“The quality of an individual’s social connections has been proven to be a strong indicator of physical and mental wellbeing and longevity, with mutually supportive friendships acting as a protective factor against anxiety and depression. Therefore, Movember believes that having and maintaining strong social connections will better serve fathers during this critical life stage, with this benefitting mothers, partners, children and society as a whole in addition.”Movember research report: Fatherhood and Social Connections
At Dad Central, we echo this statement and encourage dads and those who work with them to start the conversation about mental health while taking action to build social connections now.