Mark Williams’ new book is a passionate call for more support for dads’ mental wellbeing, both at work and beyond.
Mark Williams’ self-published new book, How are you, dad?, begins with an account of his own traumatic experience of becoming a dad. His wife was taken for an emergency c-section back in 2004 and he thought she was going to die. She then developed severe postnatal depression. Mark had to leave his job to care for her and his newborn son. His mental health went into freefall and he admits to suffering from uncontrollable suicidal thoughts.
Not enough attention is paid to the after effects of traumatic births for women, but even less is paid to the impact on the men who are forced to witness them. Williams’ book charts in detail not just the need for more support for all those recovering from traumatic births, but for recognition of the different ways having children can affect dads’ mental wellbeing.
There is a spotlight on post-natal depression, which Williams, a keynote speaker, author and international campaigner, says has its roots in a mix of hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, stress, relationship issues, financial concerns and a history of mental health issues. These issues are made worse by the enhanced stigma for men seeking help for mental health problems and the lack of inclusion of dads in parenting discussions, says Williams.
In a passionate call for dads’ wellbeing to be considered in post-natal checks and for more support groups for dads, Williams outlines some of the symptoms to watch out for, such as OCD tendencies, excessive use of drugs and alcohol and signs of PTSD. He says the impact on dads ripples through the whole family and can affect parent-child bonds and child wellbeing. The social expectations of men, amplified on social media, can also have a damaging effect.
The book addresses diversity in fatherhood and in different ways of fathering, including single fatherhood. It aims to raise awareness about and educate new dads about some of the challenges they might encounter and it outlines the costs for society and for workplaces of not addressing these challenges.
There is a lot of information on offer, but the book could do with more editing so that it is easier to find what you need quickly. It tends to dart from one topic to another. Dads at work crops up as a theme throughout, but just for a few pages at a time when it would be more powerful if it was all in one chapter. There is also a lot of repetition.
Williams would like to see an extension of paternity leave and more encouragement and support for dads to take up flexible working to enable them to bond more with their children and in recognition of the transition into parenthood. This is surely a good thing. Some of the other recommendations seem more general than dad-specific, for instance, around digital wellbeing, but others are very practical – inclusion of training on dads’ wellbeing for mental health champions, inclusion of support in Employee Assistance Programmes, the need for peer support groups and more advocacy work generally. Williams says the current lack of support for dads’ wellbeing constitutes discrimination.
The book ends with many of the ideas that have been articulated earlier, for instance, the importance of paternal support for gender equality. Williams writes: “Supporting new fathers is not only beneficial for the fathers themselves but also for their children, partners and society as a whole. It contributes to healthier family dynamics, better child development, and a more equitable society.”
*How are you, Dad? The importance of new fathers’ mental health by Mark Williams can be ordered on Amazon here.