A British study examining fathers’ views and experiences of perinatal mental health issues has revealed the considerable challenges of supporting fathers who have mental health problems.
The study, led by Dr Zoe Darwin of the University of Leeds School of Healthcare, was carried out in Yorkshire, UK, interviewing 19 men drawn from a bigger longitudinal study of parents, Born and Bred in Yorkshire (BaBY), which started in 2011.
The first challenge is the cultural norm of men feeling the need to be self-reliant and stoical. One father said:
“I am a depressive, I’m depressed right now….I don’t think, in any stretch of the imagination, I’m the image of the stereotypical man, and yet I’m never going to be able to break out of the man-up, get-on-with-it thing…..It’s just a case of head down, battle on through.”
The second challenge is that fathers do not feel entitled to seek help from a hard-pressed maternal health service, even though they report lack of help from other sources. This is a similar finding to the Swedish study we reported on earlier. Fathers in the UK study said:
“[Maternity services] can’t be responsible for everyone. The pregnant woman is the priority, isn’t she.”
“They’re focusing on her. I don’t want to drag it out by asking trivial questions.”
The researchers make a number of recommendations for research and practice:
- Health professionals should check earlier birth experiences with fathers also, in case these indicate mental health risks.
- Services should have father-focused materials, that acknowledge fathers’ particular roles (e.g. supporter, coparent), that deal well with masculine ideals of stoicism and self-reliance and that focus on the benefits for the baby and the partner/baby’s mother of the father’s positive involvement.
The researchers acknowledge that little is known about the best way to assess or screen for mental health problems among fathers, given that maternity services already struggle to do this properly for mothers.
Darwin Z, Galdas P, Hinchliff S, Littlewood E, McMillan D, McGowan L & Gilbody S (2017), Fathers’ views and experiences of their own mental health during pregnancy and the first postnatal year: a qualitative interview study of men participating in the UK Born and Bred in Yorkshire (BaBY) cohort, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 17.45
Photo: monderniermot. Creative Commons.