In a society where we’re (rightfully so) encouraging men to be expressive, not hide their feelings or reinforce this “macho” image, what is there to know about fathers’ mental health? Or perhaps more appropriate to ask, what do we know about their mental health? In this post, I shall be exploring exactly that. If you have any thoughts, just leave them in the comments below!
The Frugal Frenchie
Father’s supportive role
When having a baby, we often hear about maternal mental health, over paternal mental health. Of course, having a baby is a massive deal, and some women do develop perinatal mental health issues, but this isn’t to say that the Father can be mentally affected too.
In a study by Hanzak (2016), they asked Mother’s who had experienced maternal mental illnesses, how much their partner was able to help. The answers were mixed. Some said their partners were unhelpful, accounting their symptoms for just regular “postnatal” feelings or just saying “I’m tired too.” Others were unsure of how to help but they tried the best they could. They often didn’t have the resources and struggled to cope. Other Mothers were more positive and said that they stopped working and helped with the baby, managed to bond and was extremely patient.
Society helping Fathers
Why is this study relevant or important? Well, it shows us the need for education and support on Fathers’ behalfs. If a man doesn’t know how to help their partner during tough times, is this their fault? Is this something you’re told in schools or university? Can you Google answers? Absolutely not. There’s not nearly enough support for all Mother’s let alone Father’s.
Father’s can be depressed and suffer from mental illnesses like postnatal OCD too. It’s not a female exclusive thing and sometimes, when feeling like they need to be their partner’s “rock,” they can hide their emotions and lack that shoulder to cry on. Mark Williams, a leading UK campaigner for Father’s mental health, described
“I remember I was in a car park one day and I just broke down crying,”
“I couldn’t tell her how I was feeling because I just wanted her to be well…”
“I couldn’t tell my friends about it. They did not know what was going on and I changed.”
Mark was invited to talk to MPs in the House of Commons in November 2017. He wants the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to create guidelines for health workers, to reflect the potential for men to develop PTSD and other mental illnesses after a birth.
What other things can impact a Father’s mental health?
Kim and Swain (2007), found that changes in hormones (including, but not limited to, testosterone, estrogen and cortisol), ecological risk factors such as excessive stress, lack of social support and feeling excluded from mother-infant bonding, could also make it more likely to develop paternal postpartum depression.
The emphasis on the importance of paternal bonding, yet the lack of paternal leave, can add further pressures to a Father. The Father-Infant relationship has a huge impact on a child’s later adjustment and development (Lamb, 2010), especially if the Mother is ill initially. Just in the media alone, we often hear stories justifying a certain behaviour or personality trait as a result of a Father’s absence or abandonment.
Shockingly, paternal leave in the UK is only 2 weeks long, as well as having the right to attend 2 antenatal visits prior to the birth. This, compared to the paternal leave in Sweden, is astounding. There, they have 480 days shared between both parents, so they already have the flexibility to choose who and when they’ll take their turn. Research has to be done on the benefits, however, in my opinion, I think it must help with the pressures of parenthood and finances quite a bit.
So, after all that, is paternal postnatal mental health real?
Unfortunately, there is little research, but plenty of anecdotal evidence. 10.4% of Father’s can become depressed before and after the birth (Paulson and Bazemore, 2010).
We hope that a diagnosis or diagnosis criteria are created soon, as Father’s with “PND-like,” symptoms, are 47 times (!!!!) more likely to be a suicide risk compared to symptom-free dads. We already know that “suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales,” which is also a common age range to become a Father. Combine this with lack of sleep and multiple new stressors in their life, interventions and help are needed.
In people’s naivety, they believe that it’s impossible for men to develop postnatal illnesses as they don’t have the same hormone changes as women do. Like with everything in life though, it’s not a black and white picture. For women, mental health isn’t just caused by hormones, it’s a whole variety of reasons. The same applies to Father’s. In fact, if you really want to argue that point, there are hormonal changes in men too. Their testosterone levels drop dramatically the moment their baby is born. The priority is much more to do with emotions and looking after the baby.
Research conducted internationally shows that postnatal mental health in men is significantly lower than women, but 4% of dads in Ramachandani et al.’s (2005) sample would have met the PND diagnosis, 12% in Brazil, with 4% showing moderate to severe symptoms (Pinheiro et al., 2006) and around 10% of dads in the US (Paulson et al, 2006). As you can tell, these studies are old, so numbers may have mounted since then, as men are speaking out ever more about their experiences and feelings.
Are there interventions available that work?
A purpose of writing posts like these, are to show how much work needs to be done to help these people. Unfortunately, there are no catered interventions specifically for Father’s mental health, they just have access, if they choose and can get on the waiting list, to the standard therapies such as CBT.
Like I said previously, more research needs to be done on this. There is very limited evidence regarding treatments for Fathers and their effectiveness. However, is this surprising, when fewer men seek professional help than women (Addis and Mahalik, 2003) or delay help-seeking until as late as possible (Bevan, 2010).
Addis and Mahalik, also found that men were less able to recognise and label feelings of distress as emotional problems. Obviously, in this context, that’s enough said… Furthermore, they may worry about the stigma related to this, or seeming weak and vulnerable, or they may have doubts about the effectiveness of professional help- isn’t that just so sad?
What resources are out there to help Fathers?
Below is a list of organisations, figures or charities that can offer advice, support or information.
- Mark Williams: support group called fathers reaching out.
- Dads in Mind: Bristol
- Smile Group: to support mums, recently been doing some work with dads too.
- The PND Daddy: a fellow blogger speaking out about the struggles of PND
- Fatherhood institute
- Institute of Health Visitors
- Action on Postpartum Psychosis
Sorry if this appeared like a bit of a waffle, but I hope you can now realise the logic behind why I wrote this post and I hope you agree! Leave any thoughts, anecdotes or experiences below.