Jon Kemp: Fatherhood and mental health

Published on: 20th June 2018

It's three in the morning and I just finished changing a nappy of my five-week-old beautiful baby girl. I’ve also had to pause before beginning to write this, as my hands were covered in baby poo which was the colour and consistency of a chicken korma, which my darling daughter had decided to fire at me in what felt like an act of war. While it may have brought a grin to your face to read this, it did not make me a happy bunny.

In this blog, I wanted to talk about the realities of becoming a dad and about the impact on mental health. I must also apologise as this article was supposed to be written and released before father’s day. I will let you take 3 guesses what caused me to miss the deadline. Here’s a clue: it feeds, it poos, it sleeps, it repeats.

Before the birth, my commitments were relatively small and my life was very much my own. I was not given information nor did I seek to find any information about the impact of becoming a farther prior to the event. Upon reflection, I am unsure if this was due to procrastination on my part or due having a sugar-coated view of fatherhood.

The realities I soon found out after the birth of my daughter, were far from what I expected. The seven-pound bundle of screams soon dowsed any notion that I would take to this like a duck to water. Late night gym sessions, football, running and socialising have become a distant memory. In their place are sleep deprivation, screaming, frustration, anxiety, loneliness buffered with thoughts of inadequacy and fluctuating spikes of happiness and wonderment. The simplest way to describe the emotional experience is like a rollercoaster.

Small jobs have now become the main event. I took for granted popping to the shops previously. This is now akin to a military operation that takes three times as much time. Including equipment that folds, gets stuck, traps fingers and a temperamental car seat that I want to smash into a million pieces or throw off a cliff. All while supporting a hormonal partner who is deep in the baby blues and wants to throttle me for my words that rarely make her feel better.

Fatherhood can become an isolating and lonely experience in which autopilot is the safest and quickest route through, certainly, I feel like I'm there sometimes. Upon reflection, I don’t think this was a helpful behaviour but as a colleague reminded me sometimes it’s any port in a storm. The most important thing to take on board for me was that these emotions, thoughts and feelings don’t last forever. They are the normal reaction to a life-changing transition and that others have and will feel the same way. I have spoken to several fathers each echoing individual but similar experiences and emotions.

In summary, the point I’m trying to make here is that it is not a Disney movie. The emotional and practical challenges of being a new dad hit you one after the other like being punched through a pinball machine at a furious pace. There is an increased awareness in the media of the impact of having a child has on the mother and rightly so. This has helped and saved lives as awareness increases. The spotlight of this piece is to bring awareness that males have a transition to go through upon becoming a father too.

My family is lucky we have each other’s support and also the support of extended family. For single parents and also people without close family I imagine the mountain becomes ten times higher.  It is easy for me to see now how the birth of a child has such an impact on mental health of both genders and can be a trigger point for anxiety and depression based problems.

Further information can be sought through our website of how to access treatment if you feel you are being affected by an anxiety or depression.