Every year, the day after Fathers’ Day, we mark International Fathers’ Mental Health Day (IFMHD). The event was co-founded in 2016 by Mark Williams, who is based in the UK, and Dr Daniel Singley, who lives in the USA. Over the last seven years, it has grown into a multi-national event, raising awareness about fathers’ mental health.

To mark the occasion, we spoke with IFMHD and #Howareyoudad campaign founder, Mark, about the importance of highlighting father’s mental health, and how we can work together and take a whole-family approach to improving post-natal wellbeing.


About Mark Williams

Mark Williams BCAh FRSA is a keynote speaker, author and international campaigner. In 2004, Mark experienced depression and admits he suffered in silence for years until entering community mental health services. In 2005, he decided it was time to change pathways in his professional life, and looking for a role that enabled him to use his lived experience to help make a difference, he became a youth worker in Bridgend.

Mark founded International Fathers Mental Health Day and the #Howareyoudad campaign to ensure all parents have support. Since its formation, he has worked to change policies across the world and has dedicated his work to shining light on fathers’ and men’s mental health. As a result of his commitments, Mark has been awarded the Point of Light Award by the UK Prime Minister in 2019 and was awarded the British Citizen Award in 2023.


Q&A with Mark Williams, Co-Founder of International Father’s Mental Health Day

Q: What has your own experience with mental health been?

A: In 2004, I suffered my first ever panic attack at 30 years of age and I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me. It was the day my son was born. My wife Michelle was taken to the theatre for an emergency C-section, and I had convinced myself she was going to die. I was terrified.

Around this time, I started having nightmares about Michelle and Ethan dying in the theatre. I would wake up thinking it was real.

After giving birth, Michelle developed severe postnatal depression and my world changed forever. Michelle attempted to take her life and went under the care of crisis teams. There were no perinatal mental health services back then, so she was the only mum on the ward.

Due to our personal circumstances, I had to give up my work, where I had loved the social side of my job, and I became totally isolated. Sometimes I wouldn’t get out the front door for days. Within months, my personality changed, and I was drinking to cope. I became angry. It got to the point where if I did manage to get out with friends, I wanted to cause fights with strangers. I had this unfamiliar need to endure harm to myself to try and mute the feelings and thoughts going through my head. I realise now it was another way of self-harming.

I began to have regular suicidal thoughts, though never acted on them. At the time, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. This continued and it wasn’t until years later, when I became even more unwell and was placed in mental health services, when I eventually spoke about my experiences. I was diagnosed with ADHD at 40. While I was never diagnosed with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder during the perinatal period, professors and doctors in this area have since explained I should have been.


Q: Can you share with us the inspiration behind International Fathers Mental Health Day and the #HowAreYouDad Campaign?

A: Statistics relating to the topic. The fact that the prevalence of suicide risk in fathers in postpartum was 4.8%; fathers with perinatal mental health problems are 47 times more likely to be rated as a suicide risk than at any other time in their lives.

I had the idea in 2016 while I was campaigning and emailing leading organisations including The World Health Organisation. I wanted as many people as possible to know about the high risk of suicide in new fathers which can ultimately affect the development of children, not only in the UK, but across the world.

In 2017, Dr Daniel Singley from California came on board and with a team of doctors from around the world – helped to make International Fathers Mental Health Day an international awareness event.

It’s been 13 years now since I first started campaigning and in that time, we have changed many policies and behaviours and understanding of father’s mental health has improved, but we still have a long way to go


Q: What specific challenges do fathers face in terms of mental health during the perinatal period?

A: While symptoms are most commonly seen in the first few weeks after birth, mental health issues relating to new fathers can occur anytime within the first year – though this is less common knowledge so often they get missed.

During the antenatal period (any time during when a woman is pregnant), there are various signs that might indicate postnatal depression in woman. What many people don’t realise is dads can also experience these symptoms at this time too, those symptoms being:

  • Emotional, behavioural, and cognitive changes.
  • Feelings of sadness and anxiety.
  • Sleeping a lot, or too little.
  • Changes in eating behaviours, varying from undereating or overeating.
  • Unexplained aches, pain or illness, anxiety, irritation or anger for no reason.
  • Sudden mood changes.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and hopelessness.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide.
  • Lack of pleasure in things that were formerly enjoyable.
  • Feeling disconnected with the arrival of the baby.


Q: What are some common misconceptions or stigmas surrounding fathers’ mental health, and how do you work to break those barriers?

A: When I first featured on broadcast news in 2011, I encountered a lot of abuse and negativity as people didn’t understand and were generally uneducated about the challenges new dads can face. I’ve found with the narrative of mental health changing in recent years and people becoming more open to discussing mental health challenges, this has had a positive impact on peoples’ willingness to listen.

Witnessing a traumatic birth, baby in the neonatal ward, miscarriages and many other reasons of course has an impact on the father’s mental health which often people might not realise.

I think many people believe perinatal mental health concerns are solely hormone-related, and therefore some people argue that men cannot experience these difficulties. However, there are various biological risk factors in new fathers which have been backed up by several research studies that prove they are at risk of suffering with postnatal related mental health issues.


Q: In your experience, what are some effective ways to involve and engage fathers in discussions about mental health, especially within the perinatal context?

A: Over the years, many fathers have explained that they had sometimes felt like ‘a spare part’ in the labour and delivery ward, and that their lack of communication/involvement with any of the health professionals present only increased their anxiety.

Many fathers are not asked about their mental health either pre, during or post pregnancy. Working with health professionals, I know the pressures they’re under and previously there has been no pathways outlined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that includes new fathers, so it is easy to see how they have been missed. However, recently more services are now creating their own pathways to better support all parents and infants.

My message is just having a conversation with a new dad and ask him “How are you, Dad?”Have some places to signpost to in your area and nationally. The father will always remember the person who first asked him.


Q: How important is it for healthcare professionals to be trained and educated about whole-family mental health?

A: It is very important that health care professionals take a whole-family approach and are mindful of all parent’s mental health and wellbeing – though it’s worth noting we are starting to see more training taking place among health visitors and midwives. But beyond this, I believe both the workplace and mental health charities and organisations also need to be aware of perinatal mental health and the impact it may have on fathers.

The Fathers Network Scotland survey conducted in 2019 found that 83% of the dads  surveyed who had sought professional support for mental health problems had found it difficult to find the support they needed. On a positive note, there are so many different support services and offerings out there now and great networks for fathers to engage with.


Q: How can society better support whole-family mental health, and what role can individuals play in promoting awareness and understanding?

A: National Childbirth Trust research found that over one third of new fathers were worried or concerned about their own mental health, while over 73% were concerned about the mental health of their partner.

Society can better support whole-family mental health by ensuring comprehensive mental healthcare services for all. Integration of mental health education in schools, workplaces, and communities is crucial, reducing stigma and providing coping strategies. Supportive workplace policies like flexible hours and parental leave are important. People can promote awareness by being empathetic, supportive, and non-judgemental, fostering open conversations about mental health. It’s essential to address both the mental health of mothers and fathers, recognising the interconnectedness of family wellbeing. By prioritising whole-family mental health and taking individual actions to promote understanding, society can create a nurturing environment for all.


Q: What future plans or goals do you have for International Fathers Mental Health Day and the #HowAreYouDad Campaign?

A: We have plans to expand the day to every country in the world and to raise awareness of crucial policy changes that are needed, this includes screening all fathers for their mental health. Our aim is to work with The World Health Organization to support all parents withtheir mental health and to provide information, not just for parents, but for health professionals as well.

I am confident that in the next five to 10 years, we will have a very different and progressive outlook on father’s wellbeing, and there will be less judgement around men’s mental health.

With the #HowAreYouDad hashtag, my goal is simple, and that is to continue encouraging everyone to speak with their fathers or their partners or siblings, and ask them about their wellbeing – that is just something small that we can all do.


Q:  How do you see the conversation around fathers’ mental health evolving in the coming years, and what changes would you like to see in society’s perception and support for fathers?

A: I have seen so much change in attitudes towards mental health in general since I first entered the sector, and not a day goes by that someone on the television, radio or social media isn’t talking about it. This is leaps and bounds ahead of where we were just a decade ago. We have come a long way, however of course there is still work to be done.

However, as I said previously, I believe in the next five to 10 years, this will be a topic that everyone will have awareness of, and continuous progress will have been made to the practises of medical professionals.

Personally, I would like to see improvements made in medical pathways, general resources and within education around this topic, and more educational antenatal programmes available for all parents to access.


Q: What advice would you give to fathers who may be struggling with their mental health but are hesitant to seek help?

A: If I could speak to myself back when I was struggling, I would say the quicker the help, the quicker the recovery. It is very common what you’re experiencing, and it’s ok to talk. I’d tell myself that I’m not alone in this, in fact, new research from Canada says that 22% of new dads suffer during the antenatal period and the first year of becoming a new dad.

I would challenge all the barriers that stopped me seeking help; the worries I had about my working life and the concerns about what family and community would think of me. When I look back, everyone in my life was so supportive, I know they wouldn’t have judged me, however a significant part of my depression was the habit of overthinking, assuming the worst and being generally quite paranoid which clouded my judgement.


Q: Finally, how can individuals and organisations get involved or support the work of International Fathers Mental Health Day and the #HowAreYouDad Campaign?

A: People can get involved simply by sharing anything related to the topic on the day and using the hashtag; whether it’s a blog, information, help services, or a personal story if you feel comfortable to do that. It is a great chance for charities and services to get involved, as we want to educate fathers on what services are out there for them, and equally highlight to health professionals the risk that comes with being a new dad.


This is a day for everyone to get involved. Working together, we can have a much bigger and effective impact on society for parents and child development and, we can work to reduce the risk of suicide in parents, which may ultimately lower adverse childhood experiences.

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