Mental Health And Parenting: Dads Suffer From Postnatal Depression Too!

White British Father Feeling Depressed At Baby's Mealtime
White British Father Feeling Depressed At Baby's Mealtime

If mums have a tough time finding help for mental health issues, dads can struggle even more to make themselves heard.

But fathers' mental health is just as important as mothers' when it comes to the impact on the next generation.

In 2010, the UK Medical Research Council and University College London found that 21% of dads with children aged 12 and under had a depressive episode, with the highest risk being in the child's first year.

Adrienne Burgess, CEO of the The Fatherhood Institute, says: "For mums, it's very much a postcode lottery. There are some places where there is really good support and some places where there isn't.

"Overall there does need to be a greater awareness of not just issues like post-partum psychosis but also serious depression.

"We know it affects a lot of new mothers and many don't get any help. For fathers, help is non-existent.

"I'm always shocked that mental health services think they can address the mother on her own. They don't do a proper diagnosis to find out what's going on."

There may be relationship issues affecting both partners, and dads themselves can be affected by mums' post-natal depression.

"Depression is catching so if one partner is depressed it's quite common for their partner to become depressed. Often we don't know what comes first," says Adrienne.

"When mothers are depressed, they very often cling on to the baby or the child, very often they're looking for comfort from the child. They are loath to let anyone else in. Mothers have a great power. They can control a father's relationship with their child. She may often gatekeep the child."

This can lead to the father becoming isolated and feeling useless and helpless. "It's been found in Norway that men who have become fathers have twice the incidence of depression and anxiety," says Adrienne. "It's a big life transition."

Fathers can even experience hormonal changes, particularly if they are hands-on in the early days; taking care of a baby and carrying it around can actually cause physiological changes in the body.

"Fathers' depression and anxiety has every bit as negative an impact on children's wellbeing as mothers," says Adrienne. "If you're going to ignore fathers' mental health, you're ignoring children's too."

Studies have found that severe postnatal depression in fathers is associated with high levels of emotional and behavioural problems in their children, particularly boys.

Fatherhood, like motherhood, has evolved rapidly over the last 100 years – society expects very different things from fathers now, than we did even 30 years ago. They are now under huge pressure financially, emotionally and physically.

The fathers most at risk are young fathers, men who are ambivalent about the pregnancy or their relationship with their baby's mother, men who have experienced depression before, or whose partner becomes depressed.

Dads may also find it difficult to speak out about their problems – they may feel that all the focus is on the mum and the new baby. But ignoring these issues can have a huge impact on the family as a whole.

Mark suffered from depression after the birth of his first child. He says antidepressants helped, but talking to someone would have made things easier.

"When our first child was born, I was immediately hit by this huge sense of responsibility, while at the same time my personal needs and feelings had suddenly become completely insignificant," he says.‬‬

"After two weeks paternity leave I pretty much had to abandon my wife as I resumed work - a stressful 60 hour week with an hour commute each way. When I got back, I looked after our daughter for a few hours so my sleep-deprived wife could catch-up a bit, but I was exhausted both mentally and physically. ‬‬‬


"I had no friends in the small town we had moved to a couple of years previously. I was ignored by people such as the health visitor, and obviously the dynamic between myself and my wife had changed. In short, I had nobody to talk to. ‬


"I felt isolated and just went through the motions of being both the breadwinner and providing what little support I could when I got home.


"It was absolutely right that my wife and the baby's wellbeing came first, but I felt like I was letting them down by not being there enough. ‬


"Worse, the childish voice in my head kept crying 'what about me?'. I missed our time together, our Friday night jaunt to the pub. I had far less time to myself and looked forward to the hour commute to work. The drive back was all about fighting the tiredness. ‬


"I started on anti-depressants which did help, but really some extra support back then - particularly someone to talk to - was what I needed.


"I was lucky that I bonded quickly with my daughter and enjoyed spending time with her. Whenever I got seriously down, I knew that I had to keep myself together for her. She's amazing, and I don't regret any of the sacrifices we made. ‬


"But I do think it's true that the man's mental health can be overlooked after a new baby is born."‬

Awareness of the importance of fathers' mental health is now growing – the Fatherhood Institute has run programmes teaching health visitors about how to communicate better with dads. GPs can offer medication and access to counselling. And there are a handful of groups springing up to connect dads with their peers for support.

Glynn runs Dads' Zone for Bluebell, based in Bristol, an informal group which aims to get dads together so they can talk to each other.

He says: "When my son Joshua was born my wife went through bad postnatal depression. This for me was a hard time in my life, I felt like I was trapped and there was no support for me. This is why I am aiming to make a difference and give dads some help when it is needed."

Raj's wife was sectioned after suffering from stress-induced psychosis when she was pregnant, and suffered postnatal depression afterwards, attempting suicide. "Her injuries meant I had to take a great deal of time off work to care for her and our baby," says Raj. "This had a massive impact on my career, and I also went on to suffer from depression.

"In the future, I would also like to see more information and support available for fathers or partners. By raising awareness, and with greater investment, we can make sure everyone has access to superior local mental health services."

Useful contacts for advice and support:

The Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 (UK)

Bluebell: 0773 8628 842

Family Lives: 0808 800 2222

Family Links: 01865 401800

Pandas Foundation: 0843 2898 401