As we know fatherhood has changed in recent years, there are many more single dads and stay at home fathers than ever before. Fathers are now more actively involved in their children’s day to day lives.
For many the transition into fatherhood is a very joyful experience, however for some it can also be a very stressful time that can trigger mental health issues.
What is really alarming is that many fathers are more at risk of suicide during the perinatal period than at any other time in their life (Quevedo 2011). If fathers are not supported at this important time, it can have a massive impact on the whole family and on the development of the child.
Antenatal perinatal mental health education for dads is the way forward. Fathers need to be educated about how their mental health can be affected by becoming a dad and what they can do to get help and support for themselves and their family. Fathers also need to be educated about the signs to look out for which indicate that their partner may have perinatal mental health concerns. Supporting both mums and dads at this critical time is essential.
Unfortunately, at the moment fathers are not screened for their mental health, only mums. However, like some mothers, some fathers have a past history of trauma, anxiety and depression before they become a parent. The lack of sleep associated with looking after a new born and the transition into fatherhood can cause anxiety and depression too.
Movember in 2019 reported that one in five British fathers felt totally isolated during their first year of fatherhood. The National Childbirth Trust said in 2015 that 38 percent of dads had struggled with their mental health and 73 percent were worried about their partner’s mental health.
Fathers witnessing a traumatic birth can suffer with PTSD, an anxiety disorder that is brought on by either witnessing or experiencing a life threating event, this can vary from mild or moderate to severe.
I believe that supporting all parents for their mental health will lead to far better outcomes. The number of relationships that sadly end through such pressures is high and this can be prevented. I know fathers do go into other services after the postnatal period and normally get help but only when they are at crisis point.
Many new fathers, like me, are never diagnosed with depression or Postnatal PTSD. This could be due to the lack of screening for new fathers. Thankfully, things are changing for the better.
With up to 50% of dads suffering depression (Goodwin,2004) while looking after a partner with postnatal depression, meta-analysis found an average 10.4% of fathers were depressed both pre- and postnatally (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010), with the peak time for fathers’ depression being between three and six months after the birth.
Cambridge University have recently reported on the negative impacts on their children if dads are unsupported.
Yet postnatal depression in father’s 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 Organization (WHO) also recommends screening for women only but do acknowledge that there are 600,000 male suicides each year.
I believe that organisations need to work together with health professionals to put better care in place for new dads.
We are now talking about mental health in the workplace but not about paternal mental health. More training is needed, Mental Health First Aid training is available but doesn’t really cover paternal mental health which is why I started my own training in the workplace.
Thriving at Work sets out what employers can do to better support all employees, including those with mental health problems to remain in and thrive through work.
It includes a detailed analysis that explores the significant cost of poor mental health to UK businesses and the economy as a whole. Poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year, with an annual cost to the UK economy of between £74 billion and £99 billion.
I believe better education and training for management and staff in organisations, around paternal mental health is needed. It is essential that new dads receive the support that they need when they return to work. It is important that fathers are encouraged to talk about their mental wellbeing and about the support that they need. This will have better outcomes for organisations and society. This will help lower suicide rates in men as a result of good practice and will help save relationships.
About the Author
Mark Williams is an Author, Speaker, Trainer and International Campaigner in the field of Perinatal Mental Health In 2004 Mark experienced depression and anxiety after the birth of his son Ethan and suffered in silence for years. Since 2011 Mark has been actively campaigning to raise awareness of the importance of all father’s mental health. Throughout his campaign he has enhanced his knowledge by speaking with and supporting hundreds of parent’s throughout the world. Mark uses his experience and knowledge to educate others on the importance of father’s mental wellbeing working alongside Dr Jane Hanley. Mark has spoken on television and radio stations around the world while setting up “International Fathers Mental Health day” and #How Are You Dad, successfully changing policies.