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New dads are no longer to suffer in silence

Caffeine and contemplation

Dominique Thompson

Tuesday, 08 January 2019

AdobeStock_186754392_depressed_dad.jpgWhat do you think of when you think about postnatal depression, and screening? If, like me, you don’t automatically think about the new father in this scenario, then things are about to change. NHSE has announced a new programme of screening for mental health disorders in the partners of new mothers, and, quite rightly, a long hidden and much overlooked issue is emerging into the open, at last.

For centuries the impact of pregnancy, childbirth and new parenthood on mental health was ignored or brushed aside, until eventually society started paying attention to first the new mums and now the new dads.

Some great personal articles have also now been written by fathers as they break down the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. Specifically, the implications for the family are highlighted, the guilt that the dads feel, and the questioning of their role within the family and as a provider, are particularly heart breaking.

As GPs we need to be aware of the risk factors for fathers’ postnatal mental health issues, such as the presence of mental health issues in the mother, but also be alert to the significant potential consequences of suffering from depression at a challenging time, such as the fact that suicide risk is 20 times higher in new fathers with mental health issues. 

Research in this field is in its relative infancy (no pun intended!), but figures for fathers’ postnatal depression estimate about 10% may be suffering, alongside the 6-13% of new mothers who have minor or major postnatal depression.

So, it is almost as likely that the new dad sitting in front of you for the six-week baby check is suffering from PND as the new mum. This means that it may be worth taking the time to ask the new fathers bringing baby in to see the GP or practice nurse for sniffles and rashes how they are feeling, just as we would ask the new mum.

The benefits of screening, or even just checking in with new dads, will not only be to offer support to these fathers, but also to ensure better father-child relationships, and better outcomes in childhood and adolescence for the little one at the centre of the family. 

As GPs we care for the whole family, and the whole person, and whilst our time has never been so pushed or our resources so stretched, having an awareness of the possibility of PND in dads is likely to mean that we can genuinely be more alert to issues, and pick up on cues, or gently ask about how things are going. We can then refer to IAPT, or to any new NHS services that may be set up, but we can also mention the option of local dads’ groups, which are springing up all over the UK.

There are some great resources out there, and for young fathers in particular, who may have additional pressures or employment difficulties, so it is worth adding these to your surgery’s resources list or webpage or putting a poster up in waiting rooms. Examples include the North East Young Dads and Lads network, Mark Williams and the Reaching Out website, or Dads Matter UK website and Fathers Network Scotland. Some local mums’ PND organisations will also have resources for dads, of course, including Bluebell Care for example in the South West of England.

There are many organisations in the UK to support the perinatal mental health needs of both parents. Therefore, if we can be aware of the possibilities, compassionately ask the right questions and then refer, we can try to help many men who might previously have suffered in silence.  

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Dominique Thompson

Dominique has been a student health GP since 2000, developing innovative new services to treat eating disorders and personality disorder in primary care. She was the GP member of the NICE Eating Disorders Committee 2017. She was a Pulse ‘GP hero’, in 2014, and a ‘Rising Star’ in 2016. Dominique writes about young adult wellbeing and mental health, in both the medical and non-medical press. Her latest adventure is as an independent consultant in student health and wellbeing www.buzzconsulting.co.uk. She is fuelled by caffeinated drinks.
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