Fathers asked about mental health in post-natal depression initiative

Fathers in Scotland will be asked about their mental health under radical new plans to tackle paternal postnatal depression.
Fathers in Scotland will be asked about their mental health under radical new plans to tackle paternal postnatal depression.
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Fathers in Scotland will be asked about their mental health under radical new plans to tackle paternal postnatal depression.

Experts hailed the plans as the start of a “culture change”.

One in five women will encounter mental health issues during the first year of birth. One in ten men will also be affected.

But a recent survey of fathers in Scotland found the NHS in Scotland was failing to provide the “family-centred” ante­natal, maternity or health ­visitor services required by NHS policy.

Under the new How Are You, Dad? initiative midwives and health visitors in Fife, North Lanarkshire, Lothian and Greater Glasgow will be trained to recognise postnatal paternal depression and help fathers to access support.

It comes weeks after the recent announcement from NHS England that new fathers and fathers-to-be will be offered mental health checks if their partner is suffering anxiety, psychosis or post­natal depression.

The pilot in Scotland which is funded by the Scottish Government will be delivered by Fathers Network Scotland after their recent Year of the Dad campaign to make maternity services more father-friendly. A major survey by the Scottish charity and a think-tank in 2018 found only 16 per cent of fathers were asked about their mental health during routine antenatal appointments. Figures suggest between 7 and 10 per cent of new fathers exhibit levels of depressive symptoms.

David Devenney, director of Fathers Network Scotland said: “Primarily midwives and health workers are concerned about mums and our recent research with fathers shows most of the time they are pushed out of the picture. It’s time to create a culture change. Frontline staff can be scared to ask dads about mental health or they are not even on their radar. This pilot will help shift attitudes so that asking fathers as well as mothers becomes the norm.”

Training will be provided initially across the health ­visiting service with first sessions expected to take place in the spring.

Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser, NCT said: “It is now recognised that post­natal depression and other perinatal mental health issues can be experienced by men as well as women. Our research found that more than one in three new fathers are concerned about their mental health.

“We know that many dads find it difficult to talk about how they are feeling but encouraging them to open up about their mental health can often be extremely helpful. This initiative will encourage men to access support, which can make a real difference to many new families’ lives.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Supporting these pilot projects with the Fathers Network Scotland is just one way we are working to ensure families to receive the best quality of care and we will continue to work with partners to improve services even further.”

CASE STUDY

Father-of-five Tim didn’t realise that he was suffering postnatal depression until he had a breakdown at work.

After his son Lewis, now aged three, was born, he wasn’t coping. Tim, 56, said he became withdrawn and frequently burst into tears at work.

“It had been a difficult birth then Lewis had colic. He cried constantly. It all hit me like a truck. I felt horrendously guilty leaving my wife to go to work, on top of being sleep-deprived and having money worries.

“I was hands-on helping with my son in the middle of the night, worked on a couple of hours’ sleep and came home to the baby still crying and my wife burned out.

“But I was hard-wired to just soldier on. That put me deeper into a rut. I couldn’t help my wife or be the dad I wanted to be.

“It became a vicious cycle of guilt and depression. Medical services reinforced that by not including me. I didn’t want to ask for help for fear of taking the space of my wife, but it’s a team effort and fathers need support too.

After he opened up to a colleague Tim took time off work. “I had been in denial but recognising I was at the point of collapse was the start of my recovery. I finally felt I wasn’t a failure or useless.”