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13/11-17 at 08.55 by: Louis Dunn
Normalising Paternal Mental Health
I have now been working at Bluebell Care for over a year. The support service Bluebell offers new Dads with their emotional wellbeing was rebranded as Dads in Mind at the beginning of the year. My role is to offer peer support via telephone and text, one to one meetings and group meet ups. I have also recently been promoting the Dads in Mind service through talking about my own journey with perinatal illness in media outlets,including print and film interviews.
I thought now might be a good time to reflect upon how things have been going as it’s been nearly a year since the Dads in Mind service launched. One of the things that has been most successful has been offering peer support to Dads. I wanted to think about why this is successful. I remember finding it really helpful myself when I was unwell, being listened to in a non- judgmental manner. This meant whoever was listening to me was just listening. They were reflecting on what I was saying without offering SOLUTIONS to my problem. They didn't need to be a mental health expert, only to be thoughtful about their own experience and to try to point me in the right direction. I think this can be a difficult balance to find, as it is easy to retain focus on what worked for you and to then to try and help the person in front of you by telling “your story”. I don't think true empathy works like this. I think true empathy is just saying "I get it", "I understand", "that must be really difficult". To just acknowledge that somebody is finding it tough at the moment is often enough. Peer support can often be really effective in this way. Somebody who has lived experience of their own, but isn't necessarily a mental health professional, can have great people skills, listening skills and be able to relate to you on a human level, dad to dad. I refer to this as normalization.
I believe that normalization can also be achieved by broadening the wider audience’s understanding of an experience, in this particular case, paternal mental health. I have been striving to achieve this in a variety of ways. By doing presentations, taking part in films and sharing my own story in print, I have shared my personal journey. I have recently contributed a dad’s perspective to the Mothers and Babies in Mind campaign organized by the national campaigning body, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance in London and to the Freedom of Mind festival which recently took place in Bristol. I’ve also talked to shared my experience and talked about my role with a group of midwives. Most of the attendees at the events where I’ve spoken have been health professionals, which although it’s been a great opportunity to give them further insight into a father’s mental health, made me think about the wider audience too. Wouldn’t it be great to reach even more people? That’s where the power of the media comes in.
Not long ago I was interviewed by a journalist about my personal journey for the Sunday Mirror. Although I was dubious about this at first, I decided that if it helped just one other family currently experiencing perinatal illness, it was worth it. In the end the article was fine although the headlines were sensationalist. I initially felt quite exposed (there were pictures of me and my family not only in the paper but online too) but the response it generated was generally positive, so, in the end I felt it was really worth doing. I hoped it helped people struggling to realize they weren’t alone. My hope was also that it would break some of the continued stigma surrounding men’s mental health.
The piece of "normalization" I am most proud of is this short film made by the Wellcome Trust for the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World programme strand. Tomorrow’s World website: It was short and to the point but very sensitively done. Upon reflection I think that the Tomorrow’s World film is more powerful than the Mirror article but don’t know whether it reached as many people?
To summarize, I think that there are a variety of ways to normalize things. What worked for me was somebody with lived experience offering a listening ear. If I had had or seen an article or film such as either of these - maybe I wouldn't have felt so alone and would have felt more 'normal'.

Maybe, if you’re feeling ready, you’d like to share your story? We would love to hear from you!

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