Dr Andrew Mayers

IFMHD 2020: Blogs

Language Matters

Suzanne Hodgson

Lecturer in Children's Nursing, Sheffield Hallam University











There is increasing attention being paid to new fathers’ mental health acknowledging that poor paternal mental health in the transition to parenthood has important implications for the men themselves, for their partners and for their infants. The world of pregnancy and new babies is almost entirely woman focussed and for the most part exclusive of fathers. The idea that men can experience postnatal depression or birth trauma and associated PTSD is commonly met with surprise by those outside of maternity and well child service provision but also from within at times. Men who are of fathering age are over-represented in the suicide statistics in the UK and are not regularly screened for mental health problems in the same way as new mothers are.

 The language we use about and towards fathers can have a significant impact upon their sense of importance, their confidence and their self-worth as a parent. General discourse relating to men such as “man up”, “grow some balls” and “man-flu” may be used flippantly in our everyday conversations but feeds into perspectives on masculinity and what it means to be a man. If men are required by society to “man up”, to not cry, just get on with it, and we minimise their health problems (‘man flu’) then they tend to suffer more in silence and can use alcohol, drugs and work as coping mechanisms. It doesn’t take an expert to see how this could cause relationship problems and impact upon the fathering they are able to perform. Can we check ourselves before we use such language? Can we begin to understand that if women undergo a profound experience in becoming mothers, so then do fathers. Can we begin to see fathers as co-parents who are just as capable at looking after their children. Equality at home and in the workplace can’t happen whilst we continue to endorse the “multi-tasking expert mum” and “feckless father” discourse because it applies unbearable pressure on women to perform as mothers and undermines men’s capabilities as fathers’ by merely congratulating them for being able to keep their kids alive for five minutes. Let’s work to change our language and our perspectives on what mums and dads can do.  Small steps can bring about broader social change where mums and dads, whilst different (and that’s OK) are acknowledged as equally important to their children’s health and wellbeing.