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Website to help hesistant dads tackle mental-health woes

When it comes to mental health, men – particularly young fathers – have been largely overlooked, with most of the treatment and services focused on women and new mothers.

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When it comes to mental health, men – particularly young fathers – have been largely overlooked, with most of the treatment and services focused on women and new mothers.

This lapse has prompted psychiatrists Dr. Andrew Howlett at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto and Dr. Benjamin Rosen at the University of Toronto to set up Canada's first Fathers Mental Health Network, a website that goes live on Sunday, Father's Day.

The network, an offshoot of the Fathers Mental Health program launched at St. Joseph's this spring, will pull together world-renowned mental-health researchers, clinicians and community partners to address the glaring hole in care.

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"The rate of depression in early fatherhood is 10 per cent – twice the general rate of depression in men," Howlett says. "There is a dire need to provide more services for fathers with mental-health problems."

Howlett blames the gap between men and women's care on the fact that it has traditionally been more difficult to engage men in addressing their overall health – never mind getting them to open up about mental-health issues.

"We know the stigma of mental health tends to have a unique and more severe impact on men than it does on women. That's largely due to society's stereotypes about the male role, having to be strong and tending to repress their feelings and emotions," Howlett says.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental-health issues affect more than 3.4-million Canadian men and boys each year. Four out of five suicides among young people in Canada are committed by males.

Since the launch of St. Joseph's Fathers Mental Health program, Howlett says there has been a steady increase in the number of men/dads seeking support. He adds the jump is due largely to "the greater degree of father involvement in their childrens' and families' lives."

With any change comes new forms of stress, Howlett explains. "And becoming a father – just like becoming a mom – is a vulnerable and stressful transition."

The site, fathersmentalhealth.com, is designed to act as a mental-health information tool for both patients and doctors on services, products and research from around the world. Already, mental-health practitioners from Australia, Britain, most major Canadian cities and elsewhere are on board. (Funding comes from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which recognized the need to bolster mental-health care for men).

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U of T's Rosen says the network is critically needed as the mental-health community begins to better understand and appreciate the impact on children and families when a father is suffering from depression or other forms of anxiety.

"Men typically have more difficulty identifying mental health, as well as more difficulty engaging with health-care providers," he says. "By creating a service designed specifically for men, we hope to have much more success providing better mental-health care."

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