Research shows that 1 in 10 dads suffer from perinatal anxiety or depression, yet 60% of Australians are unaware the problem even exists.
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During Men’s Health Week (June 13-19) Perinatal anxiety and depression Australia (PANDA) has partnered with SMS4dads to raise awareness of the impact of mental health distress on dads and their families during pregnancy and the first year of their child’s life.
While most calls to the PANDA National Perinatal Helpline come from mums, over the past 12 months PANDA has seen a 20% increase in calls from dads, which equates to more than 50 calls per week of dads seeking advice and help.
PANDA CEO Julie Borninkhof said there remains a strong perception in the community that the perinatal period is about moms and babies.
“Men who have signed up for antenatal classes report having very low expectations of the levels of service they will receive.
“In fact, many dads who call our helpline report that the challenge of supporting their pregnant partner is overwhelming. After the birth of their child, many struggle to adjust to parenthood and don’t know how to assess whether the mental and emotional burden of parenthood is affecting their own mental health.
“Mental health issues can affect a father’s enjoyment of parenting and impact his bond with his baby and his ability to function in daily life.”
Ms Borninkhof said there was no doubt that COVID-19 had contributed to the increased stress felt by dads.
“Dads are more often at home and in many cases family income has been put under pressure as dads feel the threat of possible job loss,” she said.
“We know how much of an issue mental health is for men in general and when men who have mental health issues become fathers, the pressure is even greater.”
PANDA offers a range of resources for dads and works closely with SMS4dads, a free texting service that sends dads text messages with ideas, tips, advice and information straight to their phone. The messages help the dad bond with the baby and are tailored to their baby’s age and stage.
“In general, men don’t often ask for help, that’s why we offer the SMS service. They don’t need a referral, no one needs to know they’re getting it and the information is tailored to the child’s age or their partner’s stage of pregnancy,” said Richard Fletcher, PhD, associate professor, Fathers and Families Research Program, School of Health Sciences Newcastle University.
Since the service launched, over 10,000 dads have signed up for SMS4dads and received text messages and support before their baby was born and throughout the first 12 months of parenthood.
Nick Dawson, PANDA Community Champion and former user of the SMS4dads program, signed up on the recommendation of a lactation consultant.
“I signed up because I thought it would be helpful to get regular advice on parenting, especially fatherhood. I was so exhausted that I felt like I couldn’t cope with reading a book about parenting,” Nick said.
“I loved the idea of getting short, to-the-point messages reminding me to connect with my baby and check on my sanity. Each one only took about ten seconds to read, and they were really helpful.
“I was getting a text message every week saying, ‘How’s Daddy?’ To start with, I just clicked “Go well”, until it was no longer the case.
“One day I felt the worst, so I replied, ‘The worst’ and got a text saying, ‘Would you be okay with a health service calling you back? I clicked yes and the next day I received a call from PANDA.
“Taking that phone call was my first step on the path to a feeling of well-being.”
PANDA offers Australia’s only free perinatal mental health helpline, a learning center for health and community professionals and helpful resources translated into 40 languages.
“If people aren’t sure what they’re feeling is normal, or if they see signs of mental distress in loved ones, our website provides 24-hour access to our online checklist on mental health,” Ms Borninkhof said.
Anyone needing help during pregnancy or after giving birth can call the PANDA Helpline on 1300 726 306 Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. AEST/AEDT, including public holidays.
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For nearly 40 years, PANDA has worked to break down the barriers faced by parents-to-be and new parents who seek help to support their mental health and well-being. It provides information, support and advice to parents affected by perinatal mental health and has Australia’s only free national helpline for women, men and their families affected by perinatal mental health. PANDA believes that a better understanding of perinatal mental health and the reduction of stigma will help people seek help earlier and reduce the impact and severity of perinatal mental health on individuals, their families and communities. future generations.
SMS4dads helps fathers understand and connect with their baby and partner through free text messages that provide information, advice and encouragement. Dads can join from 12 weeks of pregnancy and throughout the first year of parenthood.
Some signs that you or someone you know may be suffering from perinatal mental health issues:
- You show signs of exhaustion, even if you have slept enough or cannot sleep at all;
- There are changes in your appetite, such as having little appetite or wanting to eat to feel better emotionally;
- You depend on drugs or alcohol to feel better emotionally;
- You have physical symptoms of panic, worry or anxiety or even panic attacks;
- You may seem more angry, irritable and intolerant. You may even worry a lot more, especially about your baby or your abilities as a parent;
- You find yourself working more to avoid things at home;
- You experience changes in emotional areas such as greater sadness, fear of being alone, not wanting to be with other people, or feeling more distant from your partner, friends, or family;
- You feel disconnected from your partner and the pregnancy or baby;
- You have trouble concentrating, often check things multiple times, have trouble concentrating or even making decisions;
- You risk injuring yourself.
Visit panda.org.au or call the PANDA helpline on 1300 726 306 Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. AEST/AEDT. Or log on to www.sms4dads.com.au and sign up for the SMS service.