Clementine Ford and Julian Morrow on helping dads open up about mental health

Kinderling News & Features

A dad’s mental health has a direct impact on their children. Though until recently, research was mainly done on the mother’s mental health.

Catherine Wade from the University of Sydney and Julie Green from the University of Melbourne, recently wrote on The Conversation that dads are less likely to know where they could turn for trust and advice if they were suffering from depression and anxiety.

“The fact many fathers are likely to be struggling with no clear view of where to get help should sound alarm bells,” they said.

So, how do we help them find the help they need? This was the question Shevonne Hunt put to writer and author Clementine Ford, and comedian and TV producer Julian Morrow on this week's episode of The Parent Panel.

Society needs to encourage men to share

It’s a serious topic, but sadly with dads, there’s not enough awareness around the struggles they can face, Clementine says.

“More people are becoming aware that men can experience postnatal depression as well, but not enough people are aware,” she notes. “It’s a tricky one because there is a level of distain for the idea that a man could be going through that, when obviously they haven’t enjoyed the physicality of birth, they’re not needed as primarily in those first few months by a baby that might be breastfeeding - but clearly, it’s having a huge impact as well on their role within the family.”

Listen to Clementine and Julian on The Parent Panel:

Combine that with the pressure society still puts on men to be breadwinners, and it’s not a good combination.

“I just think that in general, encouraging men to be more open about exploring their feelings and more open about seeking help for their feelings is something that will benefit us all, whether or not it’s in relation to child-rearing or not,” Clementine says.

There’s hesitation to take attention away from mums

While we like to think that the bar for men to open up to their partners is not as high as it once was, Julian believes these issues tend to be discussed a bit later for men - well after the sensitive time immediately after birth for a mother.

“Everyone knows that the impact of mothering early on is so great, so you don’t want to come home from work and say ‘I’m really feeling bad as well’,” he says.

Because of this, Julian suggests that finding other avenues outside your main relationship to start that conversation can be a good option.

Fatherhood is changing, but communication needs to change too

While we’re miles aware from the attitudes towards fatherhood of 50 years ago, there’s still a way to go.

“I think that one of the things that will benefit how men feel encouraged to seek help if they need it, is actually if we start shifting the focus on how fatherhood is framed in our society,” Clementine says. “The expectation we have on men and how they father, and the emotional range that they’re able to bring to that, has obviously grown. But I still don’t think that enough men are talking to each other, or forming communities with other fathers the way that mums do after a child arrives.”

Encouraging men to communicate similarly to mums could be one way that mental health issues are addressed with fathers. In her experiences in online forums with other mums, Clementine says she so often sees women seeking help for their partners. A lot of these women are searching for similar online spaces for their partners to find support in.

Clementine believes it’s more likely that a female partner of a man would find those online communities for them. Not because they aren’t capable of doing so, but because that work has not traditionally been done by them.

 “Men need to become better at talking to each other and at seeking to build communities with one another in order to discuss issues like this,” she says.

By this, Clementine doesn’t mean just groups for when they’re struggling, but places to talk about the day to day world of parenting, like setting up playdates, school pickups and building support networks.

“All those things mums get together to talk about, and that emotional labour that women do in order to try to keep their homes and families healthy and safe.”

We still need to treat men as individuals

While we can talk broadly about how fathers can open up more as a group, we must also recognise that individual people will open up in individual ways.

Julian also suggests that perhaps men just aren’t as attracted to talking on social media platforms, and instead would rather a different place to express their issues.

“The reality is that with anything like this ... there’s never going to be one answer, because different people will respond to different things” he says.

For himself, Julian would prefer finding some help and solace in a podcast or other audio, while other men might find support in sporting role models speaking out. He says it's one of those areas in life where it's important to be sensitive - it's his choice where he seeks help.