Shannon became a first time father to a daughter in July last year. With his 13 months of experience, he talks about fatherhood and its influence on mental health.
What were your expectations, ideas and hopes of fatherhood before the birth of your daughter?
When planning to have a family with my partner, I was worried about the thought that we wouldn’t get pregnant and that it might be a difficult journey because we needed to do IVF. However, we were really lucky to get pregnant on the first go, so that was exciting. But I know that many people try for a long time, so we felt very fortunate.
Once we were expecting a child, I was really looking forward to being a father but I was also pretty nervous. There were moments where I was wondering about how I would cope with the lack of sleep. I wondered about how I would be able to juggle everything - family, work, a social life and my hobbies.
I’m a passionate snowboarder. I always hoped that my daughter would be a snowboarder too. Now that she’s here though, I don’t even mind if she’s a skier. We had planned to go to the snow this year but obviously couldn’t, due to COVID. But maybe we’ll get to go next year and then we’ll see whether she’s a skier or a snowboarder.
Another one of my hopes for fatherhood, and probably the most important hope, was that I would be a great role model for my daughter. I did have some concerns though, that I wouldn’t have the energy to always be my best self and I worried that my fatigue might affect the way I was around her.
Were your expectations, ideas and hopes realised upon becoming a father?
The lack of sleep is a real thing and it definitely impacts your mental health. My partner recognises that I need enough sleep for work and I’m grateful that she does most of the hard-yards. But I still do struggle with getting enough rest. It is definitely one of the challenges of being a father.
One of the big things that I realised about being a new parent is that you have to look out for your partner. You have to make sure you’re there for them and have their back because teamwork is really important when raising a young child.
I have also realised the importance of making sure you tend to your relationship and repair any disagreements as quickly as possible. You need each other and the worse the stress is, the harder it’s going to be for both of you.
Now that my daughter is here, I realise how privileged we are to have been successful with IVF. Science is amazing!
I have also realised that I love something more than my dog Freddy, which I didn’t think was even possible.
Has there been a particular moment that really made you feel like a dad?
I really feel like a dad when I get home from work and my daughter is waiting for me. She gets so excited and waves to me through the window.
Other times that have made me feel like a dad have been when she comes over and sits on my lap and gets me to read her a book. Or 10 books in a row. Or sometimes even 10 of the same book in a row.
What advice would you have for other new fathers?
It’s really important to take care of your basic needs as a new dad, like trying to get enough sleep, enough exercise and to eat healthily. This will give you the energy to look after your child, your partner and yourself.
Maintaining your mental health as a new father is also so important. There are so many new challenges that you have to face and with declining mental health, it can be really really overwhelming. Getting help early is so important for new fathers (and for new mothers) because early intervention is going to help with better outcomes. When things get too hard you could consider speaking to a friend, a loved one or even a professional. I got professional help myself when I was having troubles after becoming a dad and it helped so much.
How has fatherhood impacted your mental health?
Early on, just after my daughter was born, I was having a hard time. We moved from Melbourne to Geelong. I was starting up a new business. There were so many new responsibilities as a new father. There were lots of things happening for me. So my anxiety got worse and so did my depression. I got help from a professional and now I feel so much better. Life is a lot more balanced now and I feel like I can manage all the things that are going on.
What have you done to preserve your mental health as a new parent?
Telling my partner how I feel more often has really helped preserve my mental health. I’ve made sure that I take time out when I need it. I’ve made sure to exercise regularly, even if it’s only for a few minutes each time. I’ve come to realise that small changes and habits can equal big results.
What can you tell us about postnatal depression in men?
Postnatal depression in men can be common. Men’s roles change big time after the birth of a baby and as guys, we often try to do everything for everyone and that can come at a cost.
There are many factors that may increase the likelihood for postnatal depression in men. There is the obvious sleep deprivation. They might have to work longer hours to try to provide for their family. They’re not the main focus of their partner anymore, with the little one needing most of the attention. Guys can actually grieve over the sense of the freedom that they perceive they have lost. They might find they lack meaningful social connections because family life has become the primary focus. All of these factors may contribute to a man’s altered sense of identity and his physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, which may include the experience of postnatal depression.
What are the symptoms of deteriorating mental health?
There are many symptoms of deteriorating mental health to look out for. They will be different for everyone but common symptoms include aggression, mood swings, anxiety, eating too much or too little, using drugs or alcohol to manage feelings, concentration issues, lack of motivation, isolating yourself and avoidance. As I said, this is not a comprehensive list but these are just some of the things that could stand out.
When should men seek support for their mental health concerns?
I think everybody should be regularly checking in with their mental health, whether that’s through a professional, a friend or a loved one. It’s a good practice to consistently check in with yourself and not wait until you’re in crisis. Mental health is like physical health - it needs consistent work. It’s best to be proactive and reduce the need to be reactive.
How can men seek support for mental health that is negatively impacting their lives?
Speaking to friends or family about how you’re feeling is a good first step to accessing help. There are many different services that men can access when they’re having a hard time. One service that you can access straight away is called MensLine. It’s a 24/7 helpline for men going through challenges and you’re able to remain anonymous, which may make some men feel more comfortable. Accessing a counselling service will also be beneficial. Create Balance is of course available for face to face or online appointments.
Remember that opening up to the people that you love, telling them how you’re feeling and what’s going on for you is the hardest step. But it opens the door for change and it’s so worth it when you start to feel like your old self again.
You can schedule an appointment with Shannon by calling 0434 415 575.