The importance of good mental health for dads

Posted in Being a Dad, News on
Dad postnatal depression

There’s lots of Twitter activity at the moment on how depression in fathers could affect their children.  It all stems from a blog post by Jennifer Burgess on the National Elf Service website, entitled Depression in fathers affects children as much as depression in mothers.

The key findings of the research – which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry – are:

  • “…depressive symptoms in fathers during childhood were associated with adolescent depression aged 13-14”;
  • “This association was independent of, and as strong as, maternal depressive symptoms… (and) was not affected by confounding factors”; and
  • “…(this) suggests that the mental health of mothers and fathers is important for the future psychological wellbeing of their children”.

Further research

Burgess’ blog also contains a link to an earlier post by Andre Tomlin on the same website: Perinatal mental health problems in fathers are common and legitimate, but we need better ways to reach and help them.   This is a really interesting piece, written by a dad who confirms that he has “personal experience of depression and anxiety myself, having recently recovered from a year long episode that coincided with the birth of our third child”.

Within his piece, Tomlin considers a research paper on fathers’ mental health in the first post-natal year, and summarises some of the main themes of that study:

  1. Men tend to consider that they are suffering from “stress”, rather than depression, when coping with a new baby, often focus more on what their partner/the baby’s mum is going through, and also find themselves excluded from conversations and feeling like “a spare part” during the birth;
  2. Men generally consider themselves to be the “protector” of their family, but will usually continue to view their partner as their main source of support.  Where their partner is suffering from her own pre- or post-natal mental health difficulties, a good number of men didn’t know what to do to help;
  3. The concept of a “good father” is still felt to be focused on “providing for” and “protecting” the family unit, as well as being hands-on with the baby and supportive – both practically and emotionally – to his partner.  Stress can be felt by fathers who perceive that they are not meeting the expected “standards” for being a “good father”.  The difficulties for new fathers in finding outlets for their stress was noted, as was the importance of making time for dad to bond with his new baby; and
  4. The lack of support networks – both locally and/or via social media – and information for dad was an issue.

How DadPad can help

These concerns are – of course – very close to our hearts here at DadPad HQ, and the need for new fathers to expect and experience the same levels of support as that for new mums is something that we will continue to campaign and work for.

We were especially interested to read the following paragraph on Tomlin’s blog post, though:

The study found that some men did not feel comfortable accessing traditional groups to get this kind of support and may in fact prefer written materials to learn.  A fathers’ version of the bounty pack (an information pack provided to mothers in England) was mentioned by one dad as a possibility.

This confirms to us the need for and importance of getting the DadPad out, across the country, to as many new dads as possible!

Seeking help

Dad postnatal depressionSo, if you’re reading this post and are concerned about your own or your partner’s mental health – or simply your ability to cope – as a new parent, what should you do?  If you already have a copy of the DadPad, turn to the section on “Supporting each other” and have a read through, especially the “Supporting your baby’s mum” and “Looking after yourself” cards, where there’s lots of good advice.

The most important thing to do, though, is to seek help as soon as possible.  Speak to your friends and family for initial support, and also to your family’s Health Visitor or your GP.  Don’t worry that anyone will be judging you or your ability to cope as a parent: it’s very common to need some support at this time in your lives.  Remember, also, that seeking support is not only important to you, but the best thing that you can do to help your child, or children, too.

…the mental health of mothers and fathers is important for the future psychological wellbeing of their children…”

For further information on postnatal depression, its symptoms, causes and treatments, you might also like to visit the NHS website.

If you’ve got any comments on surviving depression and/or anxiety after the birth of your child, or advice to others on how you got through it, please feel free to comment below, or message us at hello@thedadpad.co.uk.