“Perinatal mental health problems are those which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child. Perinatal mental illness affects up to 20% of new and expectant mums and covers a wide range of conditions. If left untreated, mental health issues can have significant and long-lasting effects on the woman, the child, and the wider family. Specialist PMH services provide care and treatment for women with complex mental health needs and support the developing relationship between parent and baby. They also offer women with mental health needs advice for planning a pregnancy”
This is taken directly from the NHS website. It raises important points from the off, but nowhere in there does it mention dads. Yes, it highlights ‘extended family’ but it’s a sad state of affairs when in 2021, fathers are considered as extended family...
So, my question is, where is the support for dads?
According to Mind, only women can be diagnosed with postnatal depression but let’s not get too caught up on diagnosis... that’s not what this article is about. This article is about the struggles fathers can experience in the first year of having a baby, and even during pregnancy.
- One in 10 dads will experience symptoms of depression, and this number is raised if they are first time parents
- It can easily go undiagnosed
- Men have hormone changes too. This is innate and helps men to develop that more paternal side.
- If your partner is experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression/anxiety, research suggests 24-50% of dads will be too.
- Other factors that make postnatal depression in men more likely include: sleeping or crying issues with the baby; drug abuse or dependence; and feeling unsupported by their partners.
- Postnatal depression in dads can affect their relationship with the baby’s mother. It can also affect the relationship they have with their child. They may play and engage less with their children and talk more negatively about and to them. They may sing and read less to their children and may discipline them more harshly.
Postnatal depression in men can show itself in different ways.
- Fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
- Withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
- Frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger
- Marital conflict
- Partner violence
- Negative parenting behaviours
- Alcohol and drug use
- Physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, and nausea. (All symptoms of anxiety)
The good news is that it is treated the same in men as it is in women. Most people would be offered the psychotropic medication to help elevate those symptoms of anxiety and depression, and others will be offered talking therapies.
The issue we still have is that the general consensus is men are there to support the partner and baby after birth. Even after the most beautiful and natural birth it can be traumatic for the mum and yes, rightly so, men should support their partners and babies, but not to their own detriment. Men are still left feeling like they can’t talk and this is either down to them feeling like they shouldn’t because of that old English saying ‘talking is weak’, or it could simply be some men are not in tune with their emotions, feelings and moods and have a tendency to bury it all.
All fathers should take an active interest in the birthing process and attend antenatal classes with their partner (if you’ve decided to go to them) to learn how to support mum and baby – but this simply isn’t enough. These classes don’t educate men on their mental health and what they can potentially experience, which is where the biggest change needs to happen.
There are of course other risk factors associated with men and suffering with symptoms of postnatal depression. These are things like history of depression, marital discord, poverty, maternal depression, unintended pregnancy and sleep deprivation.
In 2015, a National Childbirth Trust (NCT) survey of new parents found one in three fathers said they were concerned about their mental health. Yet postnatal depression in fathers still lacks recognition. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which guides clinicians and NHS commissioners on treatment, sees postnatal depression as explicitly maternal. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also recommends screening for women only.
A petition, led by the Fathers Reaching Out Group which campaigns for more understanding of fathers’ mental health issues, is asking NICE to change its guidelines.
Our app, known as DadAF, was developed in the idea of this diversity, because at the time there wasn’t really anywhere for dads to go. Its mission is to support dads by creating an open and friendly space to discuss their parental, relational or mental health needs, with an outreach of nearly 90,000 users so far. On the app we have a self-referral form for IAPT for those that live in England. And the Hub of Hope is a database that houses a range of support networks for people which they can access local to their area.