Being a father is a wonderful experience, but it isn’t always easy. Men could cope better with the pressures of parenthood if they simply opened up about their feelings, say the experts
Becoming a dad is the best day of most men’s life, but the arrival of a baby brings with it all sorts of new stresses that can affect mental health. Just as women can suffer from postnatal depression, studies have shown that around 7 per cent of men experience feelings of anxiety after the birth of a child.
It’s not only new dads though. One in six people, both men and women, will experience a mental health problem at some stage in their life, and research by UK-based mental health charity Mind has found that 37 per cent of men who are feeling worried or low don’t talk about it or seek help.
While this could be because men often don’t recognise their symptoms as depression, it could also be due to the fact that men simply don’t talk about their mental wellbeing the way women do, says Dr Raymond H Hamden, clinical and forensic psychologist at Human Relations Institute and Clinics, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai.
Newspapers and magazines are full of coverage highlighting female psychological well-being, but these issues are rarely discussed in relation to men. Mental illness, it seems, is just not an acceptably macho subject.
This is the focus of this year’s Men’s HealthWeek, which has been running from June 10 and will continue until Father’s Day on June 16. Around the world programmes meant to raise awareness about men’s health problems have been ongoing with the intention of encouraging men and boys to go for regular medical check-ups and seek early treatment for disease and illness, including mental health.
Raising awareness is important because not talking about or seeking help for health issues isn’t doing guys any favours, says Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the Men’s Health Forum, which organises Men’s HealthWeek in the UK. In fact, he says it usually makes their problems far worse. “I think men are generally less prompt and less willing to seek help about their mental health than women,” says Dr Chisholm. “It’s not that mental health issues are more common in men, it’s what men do about them that’s the problem.”
Just 23 per cent of men would see their doctor if they felt low for more than two weeks, compared to 33 per cent of women, according to Mind research.
“Culturally men are reluctant to admit and talk about personal problems because they see it as embarrassing and a sign of weakness and vulnerability,” says Dr Chisholm. “There’s a reluctance to make a fuss or appear silly, and a feeling that things will get better even if they take no action.”
Many new fathers are under stress dealing with the responsibilities of being a dad, but according to Dr Chisholm, they don’t talk about it as much as new mothers. “Parenthood is a huge change in your life,” he says. “You need to be less self-absorbed and that comes as quite a shock to many parents, particularly men.”
Fathers are also under pressure to provide for the child and protect their family. “Having a child is a beautiful experience, but also stressful,” says Dr Hamden. “Even positive stress affects dynamics between husband and wife. The father also has to make changes to his day-today routine and lifestyle to accommodate the newborn.”
Although in Dr Hamden’s experience in Dubai, more men are coming forward and reporting feeling depressed than ever before, he says there is still a stigma attached to conditions associated with emotions. “Men feel they’re designed to fix and correct things,” he says. “Socialisation