Baby in Mind Psychology Services is unique in that we work with both parents during your pregnancy journey-be that Dad, two mums, two Dads or a single parent with a close network of friends or family. Pregnancy and the journey to parenthood effects the whole system around you. This journey can be the most exciting journey, but also trigger off a whole range of emotions-sadness, loss, fear to name a few! Traditionally services and support have been focused around women. This is essential, but we need to expand support to include all the parents in accessing mental health support.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 fathers experience mental health problems during the parenthood journey-not that dissimilar to the rate that mothers will experience these difficulties. It could be that the rate for fathers is much higher than this-but we do not screen effectively for this as the focus is mainly on the mother’s experience.
I wrote my doctoral thesis on Men’s mental health and help seeking behaviours. Research has demonstrated that men are less likely to access psychological services even when they experience the same level of psychological or emotional distress. This is problematic as men are, on average, three times more likely to die by suicide than women and three times more likely to be alcohol dependent. This suggests that men are likely to try and manage their psychological distress through externalising behaviours rather than seeing psychological support.
Men are often exposed to strong messages from an early age about how they should behave, for example ‘big boys don’t cry’. A boy maybe teased for showing weak behaviour by crying and therefore internalise the belief that to display emotion is equivalent to weakness. Thus, men are less likely to seek support if struggling in the parenthood journey because it is counter to what is traditionally considered ‘masculine’. This is starting to change. Prince Harry recently spoke out about using EMDR trauma focused therapy. Freddie Flintoff recently discussed his 20 year experience of bulimia in a BBC documentary. What we need to have more conversations about is the parenthood journey and how this affects partners so we can ensure that the right support is in place.
In my NHS role, we do not have partner’s as service users within their own right. This is starting to change-but there is such a long way to go. When partners have voiced their stories about their parenthood experiences-it has been beautiful, powerful and tragic. There is a strong narrative about wanting their own support, someone to talk too, feeling that they have to ‘be strong’ for their partner, not being asked ‘how are YOU coping’ by health professionals-not because they don’t care, but because there is still a strong societal narrative about caring for a baby being primarily a mother’s role.
Mark Williams wrote a brilliant paper called ‘father’s reaching out-why Dad’s matter’ in 2020. In this, he highlights the importance of including fathers in services not just as ‘co parents’ or helpers for the mother who is the ‘primary care giver’-but as an equal partner who experience their own biological and hormonal changes during parenthood. Working with the father-baby bond is an important part of the baby having a secure attachment and growing up feeling loved and safe.
At Baby in Mind we therefore strive to support the whole family and actively encourage men to reach out for help. Your mental health matters.