June 22, 2020 6 min read
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.
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.
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.
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