I was about 34 weeks pregnant with Ruby when I first learnt in an NCT antenatal class that dads can experience mental health issues post birth. It never occurred to me that this could ever happen. But then, it’s never spoken about is it? Like all mental health issues faced by men, there is a certain stigma associated with reaching out for help or even acknowledging that you are not ok #itsoktonotbeok.
I think my husband, Nick, and I were very fortunate - we have never experienced mental health issues associated with pregnancy, birth or the perinatal period. That said, it hasn’t all been plain sailing – we’ve had 4 miscarriages which has caused us both a huge amount of heartache. That NCT class got me thinking beyond the challenges we’d experienced - it isn’t just about one part of the journey, it’s the whole journey - from the desire to have a family to adjusting to family life (if of course you’re lucky enough to be able to have a family).
When we experienced baby loss, the whole focus was on me (and yes, things could have been better, but more on that in another post). Nick was expected to support me through it - after all, it was my body, right? Nick expected himself to support me through it, focusing on how I felt and the treatments, procedures, scans etc. that I had to endure. Healthcare staff told him to look after me. But it wasn’t just about me, it was about us, and our desire to have a beautiful family. I was offered some support for the issues I faced, but there was nothing for the grieving father? He too lost the babies he so very much wanted.
And it’s not just through loss either, in 90% of births, the father is in the birthing room or theatre. But, many can feel left out, or in the way. How often are fathers not welcome overnight - perhaps given a chair in the corner to sleep on if they’re actually allowed to stay. Maybe you’d think someone would check-in on them after the birth, but they aren’t included in the post-natal six-week check either. Yet many of these men have the same adjustment to family life that women have to make. They are affected by the same sleep deprivation and having to learn the never-ending skills parents need to survive the day. Fathers are more frequently taking a central role in bringing up their children. Shared parental leave is now an option, but where is the parental support? Yes, there are fantastic groups to support men popping up all over the country, but they are sporadic and a lack of Government funding in this area, which means there is a reliance on charitable donations and the goodwill of people who believe in the cause.
Mark Williams, who suffered birth trauma and developed perinatal depression agrees ‘We need to think family when it comes to perinatal mental health - if dad is struggling and not supported it will impact on the whole family,” Mark is now a campaigner on the issue and setup ‘Fathers Reaching Out’ in 2016 to help other dads. He helps put the spotlight on these issues as well as finding ways to support Dad’s out there who maybe suffering in silence.
Did you know 1 in 10 dads will become depressed in their partners pregnancy?
And 1 in 3 dads experience peri-natal depression? When the mum is depressed that goes up significantly, fathers then have a 1 in 2 chance of suffering post-natal depression. Whilst there is support for mums out there, including screening assessments carried out by Midwives and Health Visitors, screening is only routinely done for fathers when post-natal depression is diagnosed in the mum. This means it often goes undetected and unsupported. This is not aided by the fact that there are often perceived societal pressures on men to be self-sacrificing, stoic and strong.
Some Father’s are more at risk of perinatal mental health concerns:
- Under 25 more likely than older
- First time dads
- History of depression, anxiety and financial pressures
- Fathers that are not in a relationship with the mother
- Drug or substance misuse and dependence
- Baby sleeping or crying issues
- If maternal mental health is an issue
- Experiencing birth trauma
So, what are the warning signs to look out for in relation to a father’s mental health?
- fear, confusion, helplessness and uncertainty about the future
- withdrawal from family life, work and social situations
- frustration, irritability, cynicism and anger
- marital conflict and changes in relationship with the child and mother
- partner violence
- negative parenting behaviours, possibly including harsh discipline
- Play and engage less with children or talk negatively about them
- alcohol and drug use
- physical symptoms like indigestion, changes in appetite and weight, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, toothaches and nausea
As you might expect, if it goes undetected it can have a big impact on the child’s development, including social and behavioural problems.
As well as perinatal depression, some fathers can experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after a traumatic birth. The risk can be minimised if fathers get professional support. The signs of PTSD include flashbacks, sleep problems, mood changes, becoming remote or withdrawn.
So where can you go for help for Dad's Mental Health?
Help from the NHS
- NHS choices screening tool – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mood-self-assessment/
- See your GP
- Call NHS 111
Helplines for Fathers Mental Health
- National Childbirth Trust (NCT) helpline for parenthood 0300 330 0700
- PND support Dads helpline 0800 043 2031 9am -5pm
- Men’s Health Forum – 24/7 stress support for men by text chat and email
- Association of Postnatal Illness 0207 386 0868 The organisation that helped me in 2011 with information and support to pass on to fathers and families. The organisation has a support line and resources that is always updated
- Calm Helpline 0800 585858 open 5pm – midnight 365 days per year
- Hub of Hope Chasing the Stigma (CTS) has launched the Hub of Hope – a national mental health database of helplines and support
Online support groups for Dads
- ANDYSMANCLUB are real, non judgmental, talking groups for men. We are the creators of the viral #ITSOKAYTOTALK movement.
- The DadsNet is a parenting essential, offering advice, support and knowledge through a community of dads on practical parenting and fatherhood
- Twitter There are growing number of individuals helping each other via twitter thanks to @PNDandMe. #PNDHour is on Wednesdays between 20:00 and 21:00 GMT – it brings together families, Health Care Professional and those who run Support Groups/Charities. For other times there is the #PNDChat hashtag.
Other mental health support and resources for Fathers
- Andrew Mayers Leading academic in Father's Mental Health has a whole page with a long list of resources and information on father's mental health.
- JOEL – provide support for both partners and mothers specifically in relation to pregnancy and parenthood after baby loss
- Father’s Reaching Out website run by campaigner Mark William's. Who also wrote a book about his experience Daddy Blues
- From Dads to Dads, real life stories and information on Dads and depression, paternal depression and anxiety, birth trauma and supporting partners with PND
- DadPad – The DadPad is a great free app, developed in partnership with the NHS, with information and advice for dads. Read more about the DadPad here, or download for free via your app store.
- Commando DAD: Basic Training – Pocket Commando Dad contains a wealth of step-by-step instructions for everything you need to do for your baby and toddler.
- Spoons Charity – Our aim is to alleviate stress and reduce the isolation of families who experience neonatal care. Our primary focus is on supporting the whole family, practically and emotionally from admission to the neonatal unit and beyond, allowing our NHS colleagues to concentrate on the provision of clinical care.
- Action on Postpartum Psychosis provide resources to help partners. The resources have been developed in response to partners requesting help. You can access these resources here.
- Birth Trauma Network have a dedicated page for partners https://www.makebirthbetter.org/partners
- The PND Daddy- An article about post natal depression and Dads
- Smile group in Cheshire provide support for post-natal depression for dads
- Postpartum Support International – provides a range of resources, including other’s stories, advice and support.
- Forging Families Sheffield Support help and advice for families in Sheffield
- Mental Health Foundation Broad range of mental health resources avaliable
- Father hood institute The UK's fatherhood think and do tank. Sharing resources for fathers mental health and campaigning on their behalf.
- You might also want to check out Dr Rebecca Moore. She posted this poem on instagram that talks about the reality of fatherhood for many fathers out there.
I'd like to thank Dr Andy Mayers for his help and support in writing this Article. Dr Mayers is an academic psychologist specialising in mental health, particularly perinatal mental health (including fathers) and young people.