Dads groups furious after missing out on pot of cash to help deliver mental health help

Fathers groups across Scotland are furious after missing out on cash help awarded to frontline services supporting parents.

Seumas Skinner and his son Malcolm
Seumas Skinner and his son Malcolm

Edinburgh based charity Fathers Network Scotland has branded the decision not to award dads groups any share of a £1m annual pot for charities ‘shocking’ and joined forces with groups across the country to call for urgent cash help.

As part of a new campaign FNS is calling on the NHS and Scottish Government to support dad-specific groups, after hundreds of organisations supporting dads got no money despite applying to the Perinatal and Infant Mental Health fund for vital services including counselling and peer support. The Government denies the claim, saying four of the groups awarded support fathers. But a list of organisations shows no dad-specific groups listed in the award confirmed in September.

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The Edinburgh charity, which ran Scotland’s only pilot training health visitors to ask dads about their mental health, has also stressed a ‘staggering’ lack of data on suicides of fathers and called for deaths to be recorded.

Director David Devenney said: “What’s very clear is that money has only gone to frontline services supporting mums and families in a catch-all way. Of course we need to help mums and families as a whole but we need specific help targeted to dads too as they are all too often ignored by services. It’s frankly shocking. We can’t just disregard all the research that shows we need to actively engage with dads. At this time fraught with challenges if we don’t focus on specific dads work, we are missing the mark. We need a more robust system to encourage men to talk about their mental health through that journey from when baby is born to becoming a dad.

“We also believe there is a strong relation between suicide in men and that period. But it’s not recorded. That’s staggering. If we don’t’ record it how can we help tackle it? Supporting mums with their mental health is vital but we need parity of care and support for parents. There is a crying need to look at how resources are planned and delivered in a way that recognises the impact of that period after baby is born on dads mental health. It affects dad, mum and baby.”

As part of their ‘How Are You Dad’ project training health professionals to ask dads about mental health, the charity found that a quarter of fathers said they feel like they can’t cope and around half sought help – but more than 80 per cent of those who looked for professional help found it hard to access services.

Mr Devenney added: “Suicide is the biggest cause of death of men under the age of 50 in Scotland and we know that fathers mental health is at increased risk of harm during the perinatal period. For dads who are already facing acute challenges of being a new parent, the months ahead are going to be so hard if we go into another lockdown. We will see a spike in suicides and some of these will be dads. If we don’t help them sooner, we are creating massive problems down the line.”

Although it is generally women who are the main focus for cases of postnatal depression (PND), emerging research has revealed that the mental health of new mothers and fathers is closely linked.

Thomas Lynch, service manager at Dads Rock, said the charity has seen a massive increase in calls for help from dads: “When there’s a new baby that can be a real crisis point for the whole family. But health visitors are so stretched, so they often focus on mums.

“We have a whatsapp group and the amount of people contacting us now is like nothing we have seen before. Dads want help and they want to talk. We also hear a lot from mums worried about their partners. The message from families is clear, dads need help with their mental health now. We need to fund services geared to dads, as well as mums.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving the mental health of mothers, fathers, carers and infants, supported by £50 million of investment in perinatal and infant mental health services over four years.

“This includes targeted work for fathers within a number of areas, including our Raising Awareness and Reducing Stigma Strategy and through our Equalities Working Group.

“The recently published Peer Support Review includes a recommendation to ensure peer support for men is widely available which is being taken forward in the forthcoming Peer Support Action Plan. This work is complemented by a review into the barriers associated with stigma around the perinatal period, which includes a section of research focused on the experiences of fathers.

“The Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Fund, launched in May 2020, provides up to £1 million annually for Third Sector organisations across Scotland. Four of the 15 funded organisations provide support to fathers, while many of the others help families as a whole.

‘I felt very isolated’

After his son Malcolm was born in January Seamus Skinner, from Edinburgh, struggled with mental health but felt he couldn’t talk to health services.

“I was suffering from depression and anxiety before and have taken medication for it for years. It definitely got so much worse after our son was born. I felt so isolated and there was so much uncertainty. I’d asked for counselling in the past and was told my problem wasn’t ‘severe enough’ so it’s not something I felt I could push for.

“We had six weeks then lockdown hit and it was 3 months of being stuck in the flat with a baby and we felt we had no idea what we were doing, as new parents.”

“When we went back to work that was hard. There was no separate home and work life. And I didn’t want to bother my wife with anything. We were both going around with all these pent up emotions, and I just felt there was nobody I could really talk to. Then I started chat on the whatsapp group with Dads Rock and it was a lifeline. Dads were asking how I was feeling and being upfront about what a tough time they were having. That helped.”

Mr Skinner, 33, said the couple were finding their feet with managing work and baby when he got sick. “A few weeks ago Malcolm got sick with a cough and fever, so we had to get tested for covid-19. We had a hellish seven days of no childcare, juggling two jobs on no sleep with a sick baby needing cuddles around the clock. As a dad I need help in these times to stay sane!

“I think there needs to be more help for dads, as well as mums. There’s been no real engagement from the NHS. They have been fantastic with the baby checks, but there’s a systemic lack of help. There needs to be much more effort to focus on mental health of both parents, and more of a system in place to connect get dads together. To talk things through and get that reassurance.”

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