Should fathers’ postnatal depression be part of maternal and newborn health services?

fathers and depression

A review of existing literature, all relating to developed countries, concludes that postnatal depression in fathers is a legitimate concern for maternal and newborn health services. The review argues this is because of the known impacts of paternal depression on couple relationships, on the mother-baby relationship and on outcomes for the child.

The review was led by Professor Tony O’Brien at the School of Nursing ad Midwifery at Newcastle University in Australia.

It is estimated that about 10% of fathers experience symptoms that can be described as depression.

It can be difficult to engage with fathers who are experiencing depression. There is not only a general unwillingness on the part of men to ask for help with mental health issues, but fathers are also likely to regard the birth of a child as a time to focus on the needs of mother and child. New fathers typically face high demands on their time and money, so meeting their own needs may not be a priority for them.

Depression in men can exhibit itself differently than in women. Men are more likely to display anger, hyperactivity, irritability and lower impulse control. The depression may be masked by other behaviours, such as couple conflict, drug and alcohol use, avoidance of the home and preoccupation with work.

Many fathers have low support networks and are reliant on their partner for emotional support. This is problematic at a time when the mother’s attention is more focussed on the baby.

The review concludes with a number of specific recommendations for action by health services:

  • Give fathers the opportunity to share their experiences with other fathers in order to normalise that fact that fathers can have needs after a baby is born.
  • Recognise the mental health needs of fathers in care plans.
  • Consider alternative points of access to support for fathers, e.g. on-line and via the phone.
  • Develop mental health support that is adapted to the ways that fathers commonly exhibit mental health problems. This support can address some of the specific tensions between masculine stereotypes and caring roles.

 

O’Brien AP, McNeil KA, Fletcher R, Conrad A, Wilson AJ, Jones D & Chan SW (2016), New fathers’ perinatal depression and anxiety – treatment options: an integrative review, American Journal of Men’s Health 1-14

Photo: Barbara Krawcowicz. Creative Commons.