New fathers across Australia are not accessing support services, despite struggling with emotional issues after the birth of their child, because of a misconception that conditions such as perinatal depression and anxiety are only experienced by mothers.
One in 10 new dads experiences perinatal depression, but their perception that their feelings are not important enough to act on is proving to be a barrier to them being able to embrace and enjoy fatherhood.
"I think the biggest misconception around perinatal depression for fathers is that only women suffer from it, that dads shouldn't suffer from it because they don't go through as much physically as the mum, like labour and breastfeeding," new father Damian Morey said.
The pressure to “keep the balls in the air” at home and work, being isolated, or the sudden change in lifestyle are all common reasons reported by fathers experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression.
However, many Australian dads dismiss these feelings due to the belief that their emotional challenges are not significant enough to deserve professional support.
Damian and his wife Amy are the parents of three-year-old Annabelle and one-year-old Max.
Annabelle's birth was traumatic for both parents, after which Amy was diagnosed with postnatal depression. Damien said that as home life had its challenges during this period, he put all his time and energy into his daughter and struggled to understand what his wife was going through.
Fifteen months after Annabelle, they fell pregnant with their second child, which caused Damian's anxiety to grow as Max's birth approached.
"My wife had noticed the increasing downward spiral in my mood and worried for my wellbeing. She encouraged me to seek help, however I didn't right away," he said.
Damian eventually saw his GP who referred him to the community-based St John of God Raphael Services, which provides one-on-one and group-based emotional support for new and soon-to-be dads, mothers and families at no cost with a referral from a GP (all locations) and a Mental Health Care Plan (Victoria and WA only).
"The first time I attended Raphael Services, I was a bit unsure what it would have to offer me, as I assumed it would be more catered to women, however in reality it was positive, inviting and secure," he said.
"It was not long before I was comfortable with my therapist and opening up on issues that were hard for me to even think about, let alone talk about.
"I spent the majority of the first two or three sessions in tears, struggling to come to grips with how I felt; but the one thing I did know was that I didn't want to feel this way. I wanted to feel better so I could be the best dad and husband possible for my family."
Damian said using Raphael Services had a massive effect on his day-to-day life - he was now happier and experiences less anxiety.
"The biggest benefit of using Raphael Services has been that it has maximised my time as a positive father to my kids," he said.
"If I had continued without seeking treatment, I'm not sure how long I could have gone on in that state, and what effect this would have had on my children.
"Don't suffer in silence and think that because you are the man that you can't struggle with the stresses of a new baby.
"If you are struggling, see your GP and do something about it - part of my issue was that I was so busy dealing with everyone else's issues, and because my wife was struggling, I thought it would be selfish to think about my own struggles.
"But in the end, by looking after yourself it is better for everyone around you.”
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