When you think of your father, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Some might say love and protection, others may say love and support.
Whatever the case may be, dads all over the world need much more than love and protection; they also need support in terms of mental health, education, and, when they first become fathers, encouragement on what to expect in their new role as a parent.
‘‘Leeds Dads’’, something which started in 2011 with a few friends and their kids at the Leeds City Museum café, became a voluntary organisation that was founded by dad of two Errol Murray to provide parenting advice, wellbeing support and friendship for new and expecting dads in Leeds and its environs.
Events by the organisation include dad and kids walks, evening support sessions, dad talks, Daddynatal Care and Dadstatic Day, among others.
The organisation is building a network of dad groups/playgroups/support organisations that are held weekly across Leeds, ‘‘So that anyone who attends one group can meet other people they know from other groups in the City, and not feel so daunted being the only ‘new face’ in the room,’’ Murray said.
Other benefits of this organisation are webinars, bonding sessions and #babyweek, which takes place from 15th to 21st November, free soft play, a free short feature film ‘’Daddy blues’’ based on a book by Author, Mark Williams shown on International Men’s Day November 19th at the Slung Low Theatre in Leeds. The 40 minutes feature film is about a father who shares his own experiences on mental health to raise awareness about mental health problems.
In the past, it was thought that only women struggled with perinatal mental illnesses, but research has shown that both men and women deal with this. According to the national charity for pregnancy, birth, and early parenthood (NCT) ‘‘The number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population, first time dads are particularly vulnerable and one in ten dads-to-be will also become depressed during their partner’s pregnancy.’’
A 45-year-old father of two in north Leeds said “Not too long after the birth of our second child, I’d probably started to feel down. It was a feeling of being rubbish and helpless; they all deserve better than me; everything was a struggle’’ he said. The doctor asked if I had suicidal thoughts and even in my darkest days, I didn’t want to lull myself, I wish I just didn’t exist at all’’ he added.
James B, a 37-year-old father of 1 in Burley said ‘‘At times I felt helpless, and I was exhausted from the baby crying all the time. I couldn’t help my partner who was in pain from having a Caesarean section, it made me feel worthless and I felt my presence did not help”.
The mental struggle to adjust to the new dad life potentially has an impact to negatively affect the relationship between the dad and the child and the mother. Postnatal depression can also contribute to emotional, social and behavioural problems, which could adversely affect the development of the child, so dads need more support so that they can, in turn, support their partner during the perinatal period.
Mark Williams, founder of International Fathers Mental Health Day and the #HowAreYouDad campaign suggests that it is important to support and screen all new parents for their mental health, which has far better outcomes for the whole family and the development of the child. He said ‘‘In my experience of working with parents, mental health issues cause a huge strain on the relationship, as it can look different in fathers using negative coping skills and rapid changes in their behaviour during this period and beyond. The biggest killer in men is suicide for men under 45 and research has said there is a high risk during this time.’’
If you know of anyone who is about to experience life as a dad, or who might be struggling as a new parent, do spread the word about Leeds Dads. There is always someone to share with and who understands.