Written by Glenys Jackson, Clinical Lead, Mental Health, Bupa UK
As we celebrate Father’s Day in the UK this Sunday and International Father’s Mental Health Day next week, I’d like to explore how the milestone of becoming a dad can have a negative impact on their mental health wellbeing as they adjust to the life change.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT), whose vision is “a world in which no parent is isolated and all parents are supported to build a stronger society”, reminds new parents and families that, while the new addition is a huge life change for both parents, we should not forget dad.
Dads, as well as mums, can experience depression. The NHS says that up to one in 10 new fathers become depressed and this can jump to one in four for those with babies aged three to six months. However, we also need to consider that in the majority this is an adjustment to the change and should not be confused with postnatal depression in women.
Firstly, it is important to be aware that dads cannot currently be clinically diagnosed with the condition of postnatal depression - it is referred to as paternal postpartum depression (PPPD) or paternal postnatal depression (PPND). The NCT advises that whether it’s sleep deprivation, money worries, new responsibilities or the relationship dynamic shifting, dads also have a lot to take on board, yet the mental health of fathers is rarely assessed.
Fathers who sense they may be struggling, and partners, relatives or friends who notice an increase in irritability and anxiety in a man in the first year of parenthood (paternal depression is more dispersed throughout the first 12 months), should consider the possibility of paternal postnatal depression or that they are experiencing an adjustment disorder.
It is important to be aware that the signs of postpartum depression in men are not always what you'd expect. Even though men can often conceal their feelings, their behaviours can give away clues that there is an underlying problem. Potential signs of postpartum depression in men could be frustration and irritability, fatigue, problems with focus and motivation, impulsive risk-taking or withdrawing from their baby, partner, family and friends.
The treatment of postpartum depression in men is no less important than in women - therefore it is essential that dads are supported too. The NCT advises dads to consider the following tips to promote their mental health and wellbeing during and after the birth of their baby:
Share your feelings with people you trust. This could be your family or friends, a health professional or a counsellor.
Try to take some time for yourself by maintaining involvement in hobbies, exercise or social activities, even an hour here or there can make a difference.
Take some exercise each day, like a walk with the buggy or swimming. Exercise can have a positive effect on mood and sense of wellbeing.
Although many new parents experience mood changes or feel down some of the time, if these feelings of anxiety or low mood persist it’s best to seek help from a GP. The treatment of paternal postpartum depression is in its early stages and we would like to see the condition being recognised within the classification of mental health conditions. More importantly, it is imperative that dads do not suffer in silence. You might associate screening more with physical illnesses, however, using a depression questionnaire tool to explore how you are thinking and feeling, could identify the support needed. The most important message to dads who are struggling is to share how you are feeling and explore support networks. And remember that you’re not alone.