LET’S TALK ABOUT: Fatherhood x Post Natal Depression

Mental Health in the black community is a topic that is being spoken about more and more and today, Monday 10th October, is World Mental Health day. The day is an opportunity to raise “awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilise efforts in support of mental health.” This year’s theme is ‘psychological first aid’ which focuses on providing psychological support to those in need.

Recently rapper Kid Cudi tweeted about his experiences of depression and he’s had a wave of support on social media. This sparked the #YouGoodMan hashtag on Twitter, which was used to share stories of Black men who have experienced mental health issues.

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It’s great that we can now talk about these things. For ages it’s been taboo in the Black community, but now we are moving towards a place where it’s OK to talk about your experiences without being seen as weak or just crazy. I’ve personally had a lot more people open up to me about their mental health problems and in turn, I shared my experiences of Post Traumatic Stress in one of my most open pieces ever. The amount of positive messages and support I received was amazing. One thing that people said to me was that they would never have been able to guess what I was going through. I’m a pretty bubbly and positive person and like other men, and particularly black men, I’m not what you would call an open book. Luckily I have a fantastic wife who I can speak to about anything, so I do have a source of release. The problem is when people don’t have anyone they can speak to, issues build up and end up spiralling out of control, ending up much worse then it should have been. It’s so important to talk.

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In regards to mental health, one particular subject I want to talk about is Post Natal Depression (PND) in new fathers. Although PND is most commonly known as something that affects women, studies have shown that one in 10 dads will experience some form of PND, and most of those dads will suffer from symptoms three to six months after their baby is born. Research also shows that more than one in three new fathers (38%) are concerned about their mental health.

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Having your first baby turns your world upside down. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the
most amazing thing in the world, but it also comes with it’s challenges. The first 9 months or so really are a roller coaster and until you settle into some kind of routine and your baby starts to sleep for longer than three hours in a row, your whole life will seem like one looooong day lol. I’ve personally seen so many couples argue and even break-up shortly after having a baby and this is largely down to the stresses on relationships, sleep deprivation and the drastic lifestyle changes you will experience.

However, I do feel like there are some things that can be done to reduce the risk of PND from a father’s point of view:

  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!  Talk about how you are feeling. There may be some nights when you are literally too tired to move, but you are a team now and if you haven’t communicated how you are feeling, how’s your partner to know that maybe she needs to let you have a little bit of rest? This works both ways, you’re a team now, so you’ll need to help each other out and cover each other’s duties from time to time. Most misunderstandings and disagreements start from a lack of communication and understanding. If there is something seriously wrong, your partner may be able to help you to find further help.
  2. Attend a baby preparation session before baby arrives – Before baby arrives talk about roles and responsibilities and expectations. Who’s doing what? What are your expectations from each other? These plans will inevitably change, but it’s essential to have a mutual understanding to start from. Talk about the small things, like who’s doing the night feeds and the big stuff like how money will be managed while one of you makes a reduced income on parental leave. Continue to communicate as your circumstances change. We were lucky enough to spend some time with our Church Vicar, but there are other sessions you can attend (e.g. NCT or free local antenatal sessions), a quick google and I’m sure you’ll find one in your area. If not, ask a trusted family member to sit you both down and help you consider some of the things that you’ll need to be thinking about.
  3. Adapt to your new life ASAP! – It’s so important to accept that life has changed and you need to make the relevant changes to your lifestyle ASAP. Don’t get me wrong, life is by no means over, I’m a big believer in balance, but you have to accept that you can’t do all the things you used to do in the way you used to do them. Think about what your priorities in life are and find a way to fit them all in, while still being the kind of father that you want to be. The sooner you learn to embrace and love your new life, the better.
  4. Try and find some time with your friends – Following on from my previous point, time with the mandem is a must! This applies to your partner too. It’s important to have at least one trip to the pub within the first couple of months, even just for one drink. You need that time with your friends to relax and take some time out. It will make you appreciate what you have at home and help with that all important balance. Encourage your partner to spend time with her girls too, it will make her happier and give you some nice 1 on 1 time with baby.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself – There are all these books with ideals about what baby should be doing and when they should be doing it, and what you should be doing and when you should be doing it. 90% of it is nonsense. Don’t get caught up in it, as long as baby is happy and healthy and your family is happy and healthy, then everything else will take care of itself. There’s a lot of pressure for your baby to reach certain milestones at particular times; walk, talk, sleep in their own room, sleep through the night, grow teeth etc etc and you can feel like a bad parent if your child doesn’t do things when the books, or other parents, say they are supposed to. But really and truly, none of that really matters. You need to find your own parenting style and do what works for you, the baby will reach those milestones when they are ready and the chances are your baby will be ahead of the average on some and behind on others anyway. Just find what works for you and as long as you are all happy and healthy, don’t change it for anyone.
  6. Take an active role in parenting – early on the mummy is usually the main focus of baby’s attention and if you aren’t a natural with babies, it’s easy for the man to feel a bit out of place and be a bit unsure as to where they fit and what their role is. It’s important to establish your role early. Make an effort to get involved in everything straight away. This will help with your confidence and help you build a bond with your new baby. It’s a nice feeling when your baby can come to you for comfort when they are upset, but this usually only comes with being an involved dad. Really and truly it’s only breastfeeding that a father can’t do, everything else is completely possible so get stuck in, make mistakes along the way but throw yourself whole-heartedly into the parenting experience from the beginning. I guarantee this will make everything easier in the long run.
  7. Exercise! Exercise is always a great way of relieving stress and it’s no different in this situation. It will also help to give you that energy you’ll need to keep up with baby. So make sure you find some time to do some exercise, even if it’s just a quick run on the weekends.

Becoming a dad is by no means easy, but it’s definitely rewarding. And I hope these tips will help you as a current dad and/or a dad-to-be enjoy the experience even more.

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However if you are feeling low, or experiencing any other mental health problems, you are not alone. There are loads of different organisations that can help, and of course you can always visit your GP. One example of a great mental health charity is MIND (http://www.mind.org.uk) so please do get in touch with them, if you feel you need to.

You can also find out more about World Mental Health Day here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on mental health in the black community. Hit me on the socials or leave a comment below!

Elliott