THE NEW DAD’S GUIDE TO GOOD MENTAL HEALTH
There is a wide range of emotions that come with becoming a dad – from utter joy to sheer fear. In addition to lack of sleep, broken routines, and hormonal changes (yes, dads have these too), it’s not uncommon to feel completely out of sorts.
Studies show that one out of ten men will experience mental illness within six months of having a baby, with first-time fathers and young fathers at particular risk. While awareness is growing, dad’s wellbeing can be overlooked, says mental health specialist Raoul Lindsay.
“When baby is born, the focus is quite rightly on mum and baby and dads are kind of in the background. But you need support too.”
We wanted to highlight the life-changing experience of becoming a dad and offer some advice for new dads’ wellbeing. Here are some tips you can try to help keep your mental health in check…
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
The pressure on new dads can be enormous, says Raoul. “One thing that comes up a lot in my work is this belief that you need a new set of skills to be a successful dad, while mums have this natural maternal instinct.”
Being a parent isn’t easy for anyone.
New dads should know there is no such thing as a Super Dad.
“One thing I tell dads as part of recovery is to get hands-on and be silly with your baby. Move away from thinking that have to be the logical, hunter-gatherer parent while mum is the nurturing parent. Also trust your instincts; yes, take on information and other people’s advice but above else, have faith in your own judgement.”
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PARTNER
A good relationship with your partner can help you feel more calm and confident about parenting.
“It’s especially important in the early stages. Sharing duties like night feeds, planning things as much as possible, recognising that you both need rest. It’s all about being able to speak to them about what’s happening and think practically together about what you can do,” says Raoul.
Make sure to connect, listen, ask questions, and learn about what each other really needs, advises Raoul.
“Your partner is the person you can trust and you feel most comfortable with, so in theory this shouldn’t be hard. But sometimes we guess what our partners need without getting actual information from them. You can do all the things under the sun to help each other feel better but until you ask each other, it’s just a guessing game, which can trigger even more worries about not being able to support them or be a good parent.”
TAKE STEPS TO MAINTAIN YOUR BALANCE
When you barely have time to breathe, it may seem impossible, but Raoul recommends finding a new routine that helps you maintain a sense of calm.
“Think about what helped you unwind, regulated and relax before you had a baby, and see if you and your partner can find ways you can lever it into your new life in some way.”
It makes no sense to try things you haven’t done before just because you think they might help, like gardening or reading.
“If you want to spend some time playing a games console, there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps health and fitness is your thing and you’re feeling sensitive about your ‘dad bod’ and there’s a way you can fit in a trip to the gym or a run. Whatever helps you.”
CONNECT WITH OTHER NEW DADS
Raoul emphasizes the importance of talking with people in the same situation as you.
“You will be surprised how helpful it can be to open your eyes to what you need. It’s something that was important to me when I first became a dad. The opportunity to chat to other new dads who know what you’re going through, to exchange parenting tips and arrange social things, like a walk together when you feel comfortable, is so valuable.”
PARENTHOOD WILL GET EASIER WITH TIME
“You can miss your pre-dad life a lot in the early stages of being a new dad,” says Raoul.
“So, it’s important to remember that the difficulties are temporary, you will return to a sense of ‘normality’ whatever that was – better sleep, quieter moments with your partner, more time to see friends and family and so on.”
Recognizing that with time and experience things won’t be so hard is an extremely valuable tool.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR MOOD
Almost every new dad feels low at some point, but if these feelings persist and last for too long, it could be a sign of depression.
“Some anxieties are natural, for example, how you’ll be as a dad or logistical changes like paternity leave,” explains Raoul. “What’s important is to recognise when the worry continues for too long, or when it becomes debilitating. For example, you might experience physical affects like panic attacks or not be able to return to a regular, calm state. You might notice that your eating habits change so you’re eating more or less than you usually do, or that your sleeping patterns change.”
Everyone experiences depression differently.
You should always keep a close eye on yourself and watch out for anything that’s out of the ordinary.
“Things like feeling withdrawn socially, if you’re not taking pleasure from activities you used to love or lacking the desire to do them at all, or if you’re feeling worried about the things you weren’t worried about before,” says Raoul.
TALK TO SOMEONE YOU TRUST
Don’t be afraid to talk about how you’re feeling if you’re feeling consistently low.
It’s not important who you talk to, just that they’re someone you trust, says Raoul.
“Initiating this chat is really hard so take small steps. It doesn’t have to feel like a big conversation. It might not be about asking for help – it might just be about informing someone about something that’s happening right now.”
• NHS guide to low mood, sadness and depression.
• For more information about mental health and wellbeing, check out the dedicated area on the NHS website
• BBC Action Line also has details of organisations that can help support you.
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