Dads, how are you feeling?

Text messages will soon be sent out to participating dads as part of a new pilot mental health program. It’s hoped SMS4dadsSA, will help fathers through the early days of parenthood, and to better bond with their babies. 

Becoming a dad for the first time is often one of the most exciting and amazing experiences, but it brings with it a major life change and a rollercoaster of emotions, and it’s a particularly high risk period when it comes to a man’s emotional wellbeing.

One in seven new fathers experience high levels of psychological distress and as many as one in ten experiences depression or anxiety.

But, too often dads are overlooked and the health and wellbeing of the baby and mother are prioritised.

SMS4dadsSA has been developed by the SA state government with the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle, as a result of the success of SMS4dads – a national study which has been running since 2015. So far 520 dads around the country have taken part in SMS4dads, and 92 per cent said they found the free text service helpful.

I learn from your touch, your voice, your warmth, your strong arms, your mood. Everything you do matters to me, Dad.

The aim of the text messages is to help fathers understand and connect with their baby, access health advice and support for themselves, and to help them support their partners.

Those who take part can expect:

  • Texts with information, tips and links to other services help dads understand and connect with their baby and support their partner.
  • To hear the ‘voice’ of the baby, eg, ‘Talk to me about anything, Dad. Your words will help my brain development’
  • Suggestions like: ‘Find ways to tell your partner they’re doing an amazing job. This is really important to them.’
  • Links to online resources and prompts for dads to monitor ways they are looking after themselves – like exercise, diet and social connection.
  • A three weekly check-in text to see how dads are travelling and if they’re struggling, linking them to specialist assistance.

SMS4dadsSA is part of a new five year mental health plan by the SA government to build a more resilient, compassionate and connected community.

Just because I am sucking my hands doesn’t always mean I am hungry. It might be my way of chilling out.

The broader government plan is called the South Australian Mental Health Strategic Plan 2017-2022.

“Mental illness impacts on individuals, families, the community and the economy,” says Health Minister Peter Malinauskas.

“The path forward to improving mental health is not a responsibility solely borne by our public hospitals. Instead of focusing solely on acute care, we need to act early on the signs and symptoms of poor mental health before people reach a crisis point.”

Initially the free text messaging pilot in SA will involve 250 men, with recruitment starting in early 2018.

SMS4dads project leader, University of Newcastle Associate Professor Richard Fletcher said the program worked because it was easy to access, private and provided practical solutions.

Sex might be on hold for a while. Try not to be impatient because this might damage the intimacy between you in the long run.

“Many fathers believe their main role is to provide for their family, which can place extraordinary pressure on their shoulders. Often, their own mental health is the last thing dads think about," he said.

“It can be hard to engage men, especially when it comes to mental health but this approach, using the latest digital technology, is convenient and appeals to men.”

If you’re based in SA and your partner will be at least 20 weeks pregnant by March 2018, you can express your interest here. If you’re living in another state, you can sign up to take part in the national SMS4dads program here.

If you’re a new mum, check out mummatters, an online tool developed by Bupa and lead researchers and specialists at St John of God Burwood Hospital and the University of New South Wales. The online program helps mums monitor and look after their emotional wellbeing during and after pregnancy.

There’s also a wealth of free guidance, support and inspiration available for new or expecting parents on Bupa’s First Thousand Days website.

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