Are you a new dad and worried about how you're dealing with your child? It's normal for new fathers to be overwhelmed. While most mothers can continue caring for their child while experiencing mental health issues, fathers tend to react differently: by distancing themselves from the child and their partner. Read on to learn how to deal with this and about support services for new dads.
This past week we had the privilege of speaking with Singapore-based counselor and psychotherapist, Silvia Wetherell. Silvia is one of the leaders in maternal mental health in Singapore, a field which she believes could use a lot more attention. Outside of her practice not only does she do a lot to raise awareness about mental issues in general, but also focuses on emphasizing the importance of mental health for new parents.
Zach: Your focus is maternal mental health, but do you work with fathers as well?
I work with fathers but they rarely come and see me. It's a very rare phenomenon for them to have the courage to ask for support. Often they'll come and see me and say that there wife is really struggling. If there is a stigma about women seeking support, for men it's still much harder.
Zach: When somebody seeks care from you, do you notice trends in the issues or symptoms that men are experiencing? Are there specific things that you advise men to look out for?
Yes, so men often talk about feeling useless, powerless, not knowing what to do. It looks very different because the mother even if she is depressed or anxious, she is still acting normal: meaning she is changing diapers, feeding the baby, she is still taking care of it as she normally would. The fathers on the other hand tend to distance themselves. They will become even more preoccupied with work (click these links for help with work-life balance and workplace stress). They will work harder. They'll be in even more meetings. They might start drinking more. They might be gaming on their phones or on their laptops. They tend to exhibit slight internet addictions. They find ways to pull back from the family unit because they don't know what to do. They feel useless. Sometimes the women will push away their husbands. They criticize the way they are doing things. Which is makes it even harder for him to become confident, comfortable, and be helpful with the baby.
Sometimes the men can act in an angry way towards the women. Sometimes they'll say angry things towards the baby – these can be quite frightening experiences for the family. But in my experience with men, they typically turn to withdrawal coupled with irritation and anger.
For men, what's really important, is that they get support. It's very difficult for them to get professional support because it's been stigmatized. So at least, what I say, is to start with a good friend you trust. Someone who is ideally already a father, and talk about what is going on for you, get a little bit of reassurance, a little bit of guidance.
That's one of the best things men can do. One of the interesting things about becoming a parent is that often the unresolved issues from your own childhood get triggered. So if you didn't have a very good mother or father, there was trauma in your childhood, it gets triggered around this time. The parents are at their most vulnerable. They are under extreme pressure to be the perfect mother or father, and they are sleep deprived and exhausted, with a crying baby that is very needy. It's that combination that makes old trauma surface around this time.
Support services for expats or people without extended family
Zach: There are so many expats in Singapore. What kind of support services are available for these people, and others, that probably don't have the help of their family and friends?
In terms of practical support, if a couple has private medical insurance some of these things are covered, some are not. In Singapore the professional medical care is excellent, in my opinion some of the best in the world, but you pay for it. So you have some good centres, for example you have Mother and Child that has an international panel of midwives, lactation consultants, antenatal classes, and postnatal classes. It's a hub for mother's to go to. There are other centres like that in Singapore. And you have really good GP clinics where parents can go for general questions, many are mothers or fathers themselves. You have great pediatricians, gynaecologists and obstetricians. In the medical community there are a lot of allied professionals for the mother.
In terms of the Singapore mental issues sphere, the best specialised clinics are at the public hospitals. The National University Hospital (NUH) has a great clinic but it's very difficult to get an appointment. And it's not always possible to get psychological support. Often you'll be assessed by a psychiatrist and you may or may not be assigned a psychologist or psychotherapist. The other great clinic is at KKH. A great psychiatrist is leading that, Dr. Helen Chan. They have psychiatrists, counselors, and psychologists. Again, very difficult to get an appointment, it takes a while. It's harder to get that continual support that is needed. We have many psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors working in private practice in Singapore. So there are lots of well trained professionals. However, there aren't enough well trained professionals in maternal issues. I'm one of the very few, if not the only one, that really just specializes in this area in Singapore.
This concludes the third part of our interview with Silvia. This segment touched on details of how some men can react with the presence of a new child in their life. The subject matter largely relates to postnatal and postpartum depression. If you're interested in some more focused blog posts for dealing with these issues specifically, see how to identify the symptons and the techniques for dealing with them. Continue to follow our blog to hear more from Silvia on preventative pre-natal mental health care.
To consult with Silvia Wetherell in-person or remotely from her Singapore office, contact her directly through her profile.