A survey by Sands has revealed that almost a third (31%) of men who had suffered the trauma of a baby dying were not referred to a helpline or other sources of support.
The charity is warning that when men don’t get the right kind of emotional support after the death of a baby they may struggle to cope with their grief and this can lead to ongoing mental health issues including suicidal thoughts.
On average, every 90 minutes in the UK a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after they are born so everybody probably knows a man affected by this tragedy who may be suffering in silence.
But despite a string of high profile men speaking out about their own experience of pregnancy and baby loss, the subject is still a taboo for many.
The charity is urging everyone to play their part in breaking the silence on male baby loss with a digital awareness campaign - Finding Your Way - to help more bereaved dads, grandads, and any man touched by the death of a baby to reach out and seek support in a way that’s right for them.
The social stereotype that men should be ‘strong’ and bottle up their grief was revealed in the Sands survey as potentially stopping bereaved men getting the support they need.
Two thirds of all survey respondents agreed that it is more socially acceptable for women to talk about baby loss, with eight out of ten agreeing that the media’s portrayal of the issue, and discussion on social media, tends to focus on the female experience.
However, in a positive indication of changing attitudes, one in five said they thought it was equally acceptable for men and women to talk about the issue and three quarters agreed that it is more socially acceptable today to talk about baby loss than in the past.
Sands Ambassador and journalist Matt Allwright said:
When my friend and his partner lost their boys deep into their pregnancy they were so open about their loss, and I was amazed that they were able to share both the pain of grief mingled with the joy of having met their babies. It helped so much to understand what had happened, to know this wasn’t something to be hidden away.
I am so glad my friend felt able to talk to me about his loss but I know from working with Sands that talking can be the last thing many bereaved dads feel like doing. Baby loss is a subject that too often stays in the shadows when it needs to be brought out into the light so healing can begin.
Everyone is different and everyone’s loss is their own but by taking that first step – going to the Finding Your Way website – I hope many more bereaved men will reach out for support; to their partner, to a close friend, to someone their family, or to Sands, and not keep their grief locked away inside their hearts and continue to suffer alone.
When asked about whether they were able to talk about their loss, one in five men said they needed to put on a strong front when talking with their partner about what had happened. One in ten men said they didn’t want to talk about the bereavement with their partner at all.
Many dads surveyed said they felt that they had to be strong for the baby’s mother, with more than half (54%) saying they felt it was their role to break the bad news about what had happened to other adult family members, and a similar proportion (49%) saying they took on this role in order to protect their partner.
And men were more likely to agree that they kept certain feelings to themselves, including:
- Anger (46% men vs 25% women),
- Guilt (54% vs 35%),
- Isolation (59% vs 47%),
- Depression (55% vs 39%).
Worryingly, high proportions of men (62%) and women (59%) said that they kept suicidal thoughts to themselves, but women were more likely than men to say they confided in their partner about this (15% women vs 7% men).
Sands finding new ways to support bereaved men
When asked whether men and women deal with grief after the death of a baby differently almost everyone who responded to the survey (89%) agreed, and Sands is keen to encourage more men to seek support in a way that’s right for them.
Sands Director of Bereavement Support and Volunteering, Jen Coates, said: “Far fewer men than women access our helpline and face to face support – so we are very keen to encourage more to do so and to help men find other ways to overcome their grief in a way that works for them.
“Many men surveyed agreed that physical activity and sport could help with grief and were keen to find ways to make being active part of their recovery. Being active, if you are able, can be really beneficial in helping anyone who is grieving and we think it fits particularly well with what many men tell us; that they feel a need to do something practical, or to take on a challenge, to help overcome their feelings of grief or helplessness.
“In recent months teams of men have found their way by playing football and badging their teams as Sands United, but our survey found that both men and women are interested in a wide variety of ways to access support including team sports, walking, running and yoga.”
To get involved in the campaign go to www.findingyourway.org.uk or search #FindingYourWay2019 on social media.