Fathers are often not considered when it comes to post-natal support. Paternal mental health has not been researched as extensively as maternal mental health, and fathers are rarely provided enough support to manage the effects of parenthood on mental health.
However, it’s proven that fathers’ mental health difficulties can cause negative effects on the father, the mother, and the children they raise. When men are provided with ample support, they are better equipped to support mothers with their mental health and be the best parent they can be for their child.
For these reasons and more, International Fathers’ Mental Health Day (IFMHD takes place the day after Fathers’ Day. It was established to raise awareness about these issues and provide resources and information to support father’s mental health. This year, it falls on 21st June.
Dr Andy Mayers, Principal Academic at Bournemouth University and our Patron, is one of the leading advocates for IFMHD and conducts research into perinatal mental health. As Dr Mayers highlights, supporting father’s mental health is “not about support for fathers instead of mothers; it’s as well as. If we help fathers, we help mothers. If we help them both, we also help their children.” (1)
How many fathers are affected?
Research conducted in 2010, suggests that approximately 10% of fathers experience depression after their child is born or during the pregnancy. This concerning rate may increase if the mother is also experiencing mental health difficulties; fathers with depressed partners have a 24-50% chance of also becoming unwell. Importantly, postnatal depression in men often goes undiagnosed.
What can contribute to paternal mental health difficulties?
Many factors can make a father more vulnerable to perinatal mental health difficulties. First time fathers and fathers younger than 25 are more likely to experience post-natal depression. Additionally, if the father has a history of mental health, financial, or substance issues, they may be at greater risk.
Signs of paternal mental health difficulties
While it is normal to experience some emotional changes after becoming a parent, it is important to look out for signs that a father needs mental health support. These may include pervasive, distressing emotional changes, such as feelings of guilt, irritability, anger, sadness, stress, fear, confusion, and difficulties bonding with their baby.
Additionally, they may experience cognitive effects such as pessimism, indecisiveness and difficulties concentrating. Behavioural changes such as isolating themselves, withdrawing from work and hobbies, arguing more, and increased alcohol, nicotine, or drug consumption may also indicate a mental health issue. Finally, a struggling father may experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, appetite change, weight change, insomnia, and stomach issues.
Effects of paternal post-natal depression
Research suggests that post-natal depression in fathers can be detrimental to the wellbeing of both mother and baby. They may over-discipline and spend less quality time with their child if they are struggling with their mental health. This has been associated with developmental delay in the child, as well as behavioural and mental health issues.
Where to find help:
It is important to get the right help as soon as possible if you are struggling with your mental health. Speak to your GP about your symptoms and they may be able to offer you treatments such as medication or talking therapies. Additionally, there is a wealth of online support and resources available. Visit Mind’s website to browse a range of online support or visit Dr Mayers’ website.
If you experience a mental health crisis, don’t delay reaching out for support. Call 999 or The Samaritans FREE on 116 123.
Our guest blogger:
Huge thanks to our Ambassador and Assistant psychologist Lucy for her timely blog. Lucy has also contributed a lovely film about how nature makes her feel which you can find on our Instagram feed.