We saw (and laughed at) a meme recently that said something to the effect of, “Your dad doesn’t have friends – your mum has friends, and they have husbands.” And as funny as we found it, it got us thinking about the fact that making – and, particularly, keeping – friends seems so much easier for women.
It turns out, we were onto something.
According to a survey by Movember, almost a third of Aussie men didn’t check in with friends or family to find out how they were doing during the COVID-19 crisis – only 16 percent of their female counterparts reported the same.
Of the men surveyed, a third also admitted their relationships with friends and work colleagues had weakened since social distancing restrictions and working from home measures came into play.
This concern isn’t new, though. In 2019, Movember also funded an Ipsos MORI survey about new fathers, which revealed that around one in four Aussie men felt socially isolated when they first became a father, while one in five said becoming a dad made them lose touch with close friends. Another study conducted via beyondblue highlighted the importance of strong social networks to mitigate risk factors associated with isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety and even suicide.
Such was the inspiration for Movember’s Social Innovators Challenge – a mission to support the development of innovative ideas that could increase social connections and feelings of belongingness in men, particularly those at greater risk of social isolation (think new dads, unemployed and divorced men, and men of low socio-economic status).
It’s how Queensland-based dad Tom Docking’s idea for a Dads Group got on its feet.
“I went looking for support programs for expectant and new dads and there was nothing,” Tom says. “There just didn’t seem to be any groups where new dads could get together and hang out.”
So, Tom, along with his wife Katie, made one. The first group of its kind in Australia, Dads Group provides an opportunity for fathers all over Australia to connect both in person and online, finding support and friendship they wouldn’t have otherwise.
With Movember’s backing, Dads Group now has over 100 groups across the country, catering directly to young and expectant dads.
And while the results have been staggering, the social impact of COVID-19 has disrupted the opportunity for face-to-face meetings in many parts of the country.
“It’s concerning because although we have adapted our meetings to a daily online platform, new dads aren’t showing up in the numbers we’d expect or hope for,” says Tom. “COVID has made meeting up in person harder, but the daily online group is a fantastic option for dads who are isolated or perhaps can’t commit to a meet up because of their situation.”
Tom says the group helps new fathers connect around common parenting issues and discuss their insecurities, fears, stresses and wins, in safe space, and he would love to see the online member numbers increase.
“We need to get the word out that we are here, and we can help,” he says. “There are new dads out there that don’t know about our group and would really psychologically benefit from being a part of it.”
A study conducted by Sunshine Coast University researcher and clinical psychologist Mary Gregory found that 33 percent of dads who were not involved in Dads Group had no idea where they could go for support, a stark contrast to the three percent of Dads Group members who felt the same way. What’s more, 27 percent of dads in the general population felt they and their family were not at all connected within their community, compared with just 5 percent of dads in Dads Group.
Mary said there had also been rapid societal changes, from dads not being hugely involved in childcare to now being expected to do quite a bit.
“A lot of new dads don’t have all the skills they need mainly because their fathers were probably not nearly as involved in raising them as these dads are now,” she says. “New dads are hard to reach and engage with but because of the high rates of mental health problems there needs to be groups which are targeted for support.”
Mary said joining the online ‘Dads Group’ could potentially be as effective as face-to-face groups for social connection benefits, as research is showing that telehealth is as effective as face-to-face programs.
“We believe it’s important for these new dads to keep that connection going where possible,” says Movember’s Global Director for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Brendan Maher said. “While face-to face meetings are preferable to many dads, the online group can still provide important social benefits.”