Around 10% of fathers can experience mental health problems in the first year following the birth of their child.
Mark Williams is a Bridgend dad who developed mental health problems after his wife experienced birth trauma. He is now a global campaigner for parents.
In 2016 Mark co-founded International Fathers’ Mental Health Day with Dr Daniel Singley, a psychologist based in San Diego, California. Since then, the event has grown each year.
Matt Pearce spoke to Mark to find out more about how the International Day came about – and what its focus will be this year:
Matt: You co-founded International Fathers’ Mental Health Day (IFMHD) in 2016 with Dr Daniel Singley. Tell us about how and why it came about?
Mark: It was an idea I had coming back from a conference in London when I was reading an article about “Happy National Wine Day” or something like that. As we know, the biggest killer in men in the UK under 50 is suicide and I thought there should be at least one day when we can gather everyone together to explain the importance of supporting dads.
I Zoomed Daniel the following the year to see if we could make it a real international day as he does incredible work in America, and soon it involved seven of us all the way from Australia to Africa. As of last year it has become an official day in the Mental Health Calendar.
Matt: How will you be marking IFMHD in 2020?
Mark: I was going to be in Welsh Government buildings in the morning and a talk at a theatre in Swansea in the afternoon – but unfortunately due to the current situation it’s all going online. But I do feel that people have more time this year to produce some blogs so something good has come out of something bad.
Matt: This year IFMHD is focusing on the impact of coronavirus on fathers’ mental health. Tell us more about the issues you will be highlighting?
Mark: As we know, some reports suggest that up to 39 per cent of new dads want support for their mental health even without the coronavirus, so anxiety is going to be even more common with the uncertainty caused by the virus and lack of money in many families. However, I feel that one good outcome is that under lockdown new dads will have more time to bond and have that important attachment with their babies.
Matt: What kind of services would you like to see developed in Wales so that fathers can feel supported with their mental health?
Mark: After meeting the Welsh Health Minister last year and petitioning the Welsh Government I am pleased to say there is mention of fathers during the perinatal period in the Together for Mental Health Delivery Plan 2019-2022. I’m also working with NHS England on a new long-term plan for universities and I feel it’s just a matter of time before Wales will catch up.
What we want is advocacy, screening and better support for new fathers as I feel it’s a missing piece of the jigsaw. When all parents are supported for their mental health it has far better outcomes for the whole family and the development of the child. We also know it can impact on mums’ mental health if dad is not supported and there is more drinking, avoidance of situations and anger, so we know that providing support for dads will save many relationships too.
Mental health early prevention should start during pregnancy for parents as it’s so important in those first 1001 Critical Days.