Recent research shows that 1 in 10 new dads will experience some symptoms of postnatal depression and 39% of expectant dads are concerned about their mental health (stats from Fathers Reaching Out report). The mental health of men is still overlooked with suicide remaining the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, and 12.5% of men in the UK suffering from depression and anxiety. New dads are particularly vulnerable as financial and work pressures coupled with a huge life change can have a significant impact. Dad’s poor mental health has significant negative impacts on support for mothers and the development of children.
We caught up with dad, Elliott Rae to hear about his own personal journey into fatherhood, his struggles with mental health and the amazing work he is doing now to support dads.
Who is Elliott Rae?
I am Elliott Rae, a husband, dad, speaker, author and founder of MusicFootballFatherhood.com (MFF), the parenting platform for men. I started MFF in 2016 after suffering from PTSD after the traumatic birth of my daughter. It was that experience which led me to dedicate my life’s work to creating spaces for more open conversations around fatherhood.
My book, ‘DAD: untold stories of fatherhood, love, mental health and masculinity’ launched in 2021 and is a deeply moving and inspiring collection of 20 stories that represent the diversity of modern fatherhood and seeks to start a conversation that challenges the traditions associated with masculinity.
I am also making my TV presenter debut with a show called ‘Becoming Dad’ on Wednesday 26th January 2022. The BBC will broadcast Becoming Dad - the first TV documentary of its kind to bring issues around dads’ mental health, equal parenting, work-life balance and masculinity to the mainstream.
What did you struggle with most when you became a father?
I struggled with the relentlessness of having a newborn baby and juggling a full time job. What made it more difficult for us was that my wife was diagnosed with postnatal anxiety and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the traumatic birth of our daughter.
We would be very paranoid about our daughter’s health. We would be at A&E at least once a week in the first couple of months and apart from that, struggled to leave the house. I was exhausted and suffering from insomnia, anxiety and flashbacks. It was a very difficult time.
What helped you navigate those struggles?
I am so thankful for the relationship my wife and I have. We were able to talk to each other and support each other which helped so much. I was able to be open with her, as she was with me, so I had an outlet to express my worries.
Another massive help was that I was able to work flexibly. I had a really supportive manager who allowed me to change my working pattern frequently in the first year of becoming a dad. I worked compressed hours, worked from home once a week and had flexible hours. This flexibility was a life saver as it helped me to get a better balance between my responsibilities at home and at work.
Why do you think so many dads struggle with their mental health in fatherhood?
The pressures of fatherhood, especially for involved dads with full time jobs, is immense. There is suddenly a lot more work to do at home, a lack of sleep, a changing relationship with your partner and an expectation to keep performing at work. For some dads they will also have some financial worries and some dads will find it difficult to bond with their baby.
In addition to this we have to consider that traditional ideas around masculinity means it’s often not safe or expected for men to share their concerns and seek help in difficult moments. This can all mean that many dads will suffer from poor mental health and not actually seek professional support for it.
What do you wish you had known before you became a dad?
I wish I was a bit more prepared for the birth not to go to plan. I wish I had been more open to help from family earlier on. I also wish I knew about the prevalence of mental health problems with new dads and that it’s OK to seek help. This would have meant that I would have sought help much sooner and could have prevented some of the challenging moments.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to your new dad self?
I would say that it’s going to be OK. That this story is all part of a bigger plan and well done for being there for your family and for always doing your best.
What would be your top tip for any dad who is struggling right now?
I would say talk, talk, talk. There are many dad groups out there, including MusicFootballFatherhood.com, where you can access peer support. I would also encourage them to speak to their line manager if they feel comfortable and see what support is available at work. I would encourage them to be open with friends and family so they can help out. And lastly, I would encourage them to access professional support, whether that is through NHS talking therapies or charities like MIND and CALM.
About the Author
Elliott Rae, is a speaker, author and founder of MusicFootballFatherhood.com (MFF), the parenting platform for men. MFF is all about open conversations around fatherhood and was described as the ‘Dad’s version of Mumsnet’ by the BBC.
Prior to founding MFF, Elliott held senior Diversity, Equity & Inclusion roles, recent positions include the head of race equality in Defra and the Head of D&I delivery at HM Treasury. He is one of the UK’s most prominent speakers and writers on topics around fatherhood, masculinity, mental health, equal parenting and gender equality.
Elliott regularly hosts webinars and workshops with organisations about how they can support working dads, redefine masculinity and create a family friendly workplace. Recent clients include Ford, Siemans, Co-op, Allen & Overy, BT, HSBC and Glaxo GSK.
Elliott is also the curator of a book entitled ‘DAD: untold stories of fatherhood, love, mental health and masculinity’ which is a deeply moving and inspiring collection of 20 stories that represent the diversity of modern fatherhood and seeks to start a conversation that challenges the traditions associated with masculinity.
DAD was published on Tuesday 1st June 2021. It is an Amazon Top 10 bestseller and a Top 20 bestseller on The Hive. Elliott even managed to hand deliver a copy of DAD to Prince William!
Elliott is making his TV presenter debut with a show called ‘Becoming Dad’. On Wednesday 26th January 2022, the BBC will broadcast Becoming Dad - the first TV documentary of its kind to bring issues around dads’ mental health, equal parenting, work-life balance and masculinity to the mainstream.
Becoming Dad is a primetime show and will be broadcast on BBC One in the South-East England region. It marks the launch of We Are England: a new BBC One current affairs series that reflects voices and issues across the country.