Conversations that Count: Ask A Dad about His Journey
By Daniel Singley
With International Fathers’ Mental Health Day right around the corner, I wanted to take a brief look at some of the ways that my colleagues and I have been working to empower fathers to get their “dad-on” as best they can. IFMHD is always the Monday after Father’s Day, so this year it takes place on June 17th. In addition to putting out information like this blog post, other fatherhood mental enthusiasts like my friends Mark Williams and Dr. Andy Mayers in the UK are sponsoring a conference with a whole day’s worth of speakers and events. The whole point of having IFMHD is to draw attention to a few key points:
- Dads – especially new ones – commonly have some unmet emotional/mental health needs
- Those of us who work in reproductive/perinatal mental health often don’t focus on how to support dads
- Learning to provide support to men and dads takes some stepping outside the box
The American Psychological Association recently released the first-ever Guidelines for the Psychological Treatment of Men and Boys in late 2018, and that report (which was written by my colleagues in the APA’s Division 51 focusing on men’s issues) is groundbreaking because it summarizes a huge volume of research on the psychology of men with a focus on how to apply the research in concrete ways. The short version of the Guideline’s message goes something like, “work to understand men in their context, and then help them to do the same” – and one of the ways that the Guidelines drill into specifics is by focusing on the importance of the fatherhood role:
“Psychologists strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships.”
By including this section in their guidelines, the APA has taken a giant stride toward encouraging psychologists, other mental health practitioners, as well as dads and their loved ones alike to step back and see a dad’s masculinity and fatherhood identity as key aspects of his journey. That said, it doesn’t take mental health training to find a dad you know (new or a seasoned “veteran dad”) and ask him about the highlights as well as some of the “lowlights” of his fatherhood experience.
My friend and founder of Postpartum Support International Jane Honikman is currently working with me to put on a presentation at PSI’s upcoming conference which will focus on some specific issues and strategies to involve fathers and men in the field of perinatal mental health. It’s been great to put the information for our talk together because Jane is a strong believer in factoring in the fathers by working to give them a voice and equal footing in early parenting. In my experience, a great way to do so is to sit down with a dad and ask him about what his own personal experience has been. And if you happen to find a dad who’s struggling, remember that PSI has developed a number of resources for dads themselves as well as those of us who are in a position to support them. You can access them by clicking here or going to our website at https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/resources-for-fathers/ .
To learn more about International Fathers’ Mental Health Day, follow us on Twitter (@dadsmhday) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dadsMHday/), and look for posts with #dadsmhday tags.
Daniel Singley, Ph.D. is a Board Certified psychologist and a member of PSI’s Board of Directors whose research and practice focus on paternal perinatal mental health.