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Mental health of working fathers must not be overlooked

Karen Taylor, Founder - Parent Cloud

A significant number of fathers struggle with their mental health, particularly in the early years. Many of these suffer in silence as they feel unable to speak up. New data shows when that help is available, they are four times more likely to access it through parenting service than mothers. This indicates that there is a demand for more help for fathers in the workplace.

Usage figures from Parent Cloud, an innovative online support service for parents offered through employers, reveals the much fuller and engaged role fathers are now taking in raising their children. It also shows that they appreciate having parenting support on offer and need help to cope with juggling their different responsibilities. Fathers are just as likely as mothers to access the counselling on offer, including everything from infant sleep therapies to career guidance.

However, there is one area where fathers are significantly more like to ask for help – mental health support. 80% of the sessions booked to date through Parent Cloud for mental health support have been for fathers, revealing the pressure that many are under. New fathers especially may be struggling to adapt to their new circumstances and their enhanced responsibilities. This need is highlighted by research conducted by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) which found a third of new dads were worried about their mental health[1].

Parenting in the UK is changing

Family dynamics in the UK have changed dramatically over the past few decades. Long gone are the days when fathers were the sole bread winner, with mothers staying at home to look after the children and taking responsibility for almost all childcare. Where there are two parents, dual income households have become the norm and, in addition to this, there are around 1.8 million loan parent families[2]. Fathers, particularly those aged under 40 are much more involved in the day-to-day raising of their children. 58% say they are fully involved and an additional 29% say they are mostly involved[3]. Parenthood is affecting their working lives, with 63% having requested an adjustment in their working arrangements[4].

Making work work for parents

Employers need to realise this change is taking place and adapt accordingly. They need to make it as easy as possible for all parents, including fathers, to get the help and support that they need to ensure they can be their best selves at work as well as at home. From actively backing and promoting shared parental leave to making it easier for all employees to work flexibly, employers can reap the benefits of taking a forward approach in this area and attracting and retaining employees who are parents.

Providing the most appropriate support

Many men find talking about their emotions a difficult thing to do, it something that doesn’t come naturally. Only a quarter of men say they would talk openly to a male friend if they were struggling with their mental health[5]. Thinking about talking openly at work, where many feel they should be professional and stable, things not associated with poor mental health, is a terrifying thought. For men to take that brave step of coming forward and asking for help, they need to that anything they say will be treated confidentially.

The data from Parent Cloud backs up this need for safe and secure services. Fathers seem to embrace the opportunity to seek help online at a time that suits them and with a therapist that they can choose, letting them feel like they have an element of control.

This is supported by research that suggests that men are more likely to seek assistance for a mental health issue when they feel the help being offered meets their preferences and can be accessed easily[6].

It can still be difficult for fathers to be open about the struggles that they face, particularly at work. No one asks new fathers how they are coping with having a baby, if they are managing to get enough sleep or adjusting to their new responsibilities. It is still assumed that the mother will be dealing with most of the hands-on childcare, but this situation is changing.

Employers need to revise their thinking to include fathers

Employers need to be aware of this revision of roles within the home and explore how they can support all parents with services that they feel comfortable and confident to access. Having a baby is a completely life-changing experience for both parents, and it can be extremely difficult to adjust. Up to one in five women and one in ten men are affected by mental health problems during a pregnancy and in the first year after birth[7]. Many of these, particularly fathers, will be in the workforce and may require help. Providing effective mental health support at work is vital, given how much it costs UK employers each year. It costs business up to £45 billion a year, a figure that has risen by 16% in the last three years[8]. A significant number of those having problems will be parents.

Juggling the demands of work and home life used to be something that only mothers had to cope with. As fathers step up and embrace a more active role in bringing up their children, it is a challenge that more and more dads are now facing too. New fathers can feel isolated or alone at work, not able to share any problems they might have adjusting to their new role. Forward thinking employers, who want to create a workplace culture that truly embraces all employees need to offer services that all parents can easily access. These should allow them to talk in a secure and protected environment to someone who understands what they’re going through. Organisation who take the lead on this will ensure they are able to retain talent and also attract those who are looking for truly family-friendly employer.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49564467

[2] https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/what-we-do/media-centre/single-parents-facts-figures/

[3] Deloitte and Daddilife The Millennial Dad at Work report 2019

[4] Deloitte and Daddilife The Millennial Dad at Work report 2019

[5] https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-mental-health/ask-twice/supporting-men

[6] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/men-and-mental-health

[7] https://healthforunder5s.co.uk/sections/foryou/having-baby-can-affect-emotional-mental-health/

[8] https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/poor-mental-health-costing-businesses-45bn-a-year

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