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Home » Men's Healthcare » Postnatal depression in fathers — a myth or reality?

Mary Maguire

John Hume Doctoral Researcher

Sinead McGilloway

Professor of Family and Community Mental Health, Centre for Mental Health and Community Research,
Maynooth University

Some fathers may silently be struggling with post-natal depression. Learn about the challenges, support gaps and the importance of early recognition.

Becoming a parent is a major life event for both women and men and one that brings a range of positive and negative experiences.

Mental health during the perinatal period

The perinatal period, which encompasses the time from pregnancy up to one year after the birth of a child, can be stressful for a significant proportion of parents. In some cases, it may lead to (or exacerbate existing) mental health difficulties, such as depression or anxiety.

Although perinatal mental health problems are seen as almost universally female with approximately 1 in 5 new mothers affected, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 10 fathers will also experience mental health difficulties during the perinatal period.

How do fathers experience post-natal depression or anxiety?

During the transition to becoming a father, dads can experience mental health problems in different ways from their partners. For example, they may experience bouts of irritability and anger, coupled with an inability to express emotions. They may also engage in escapist behaviours such as substance abuse, online activity or extended time spent away from the home.

When asked about their experience of becoming a father, men often report feeling excluded from the birthing journey and ignored by healthcare professionals, as well as significant concerns around job and financial stability.  Feelings of powerlessness and overwhelm may also emerge.

Men often report feeling excluded from
the birthing journey and ignored
by healthcare professionals.

A silent burden for fathers

There are, as yet, no established criteria for diagnosing perinatal mental health problems in fathers, while mental health screening is carried out exclusively for mothers. Furthermore, many fathers acknowledge that their primary role during the perinatal period is to support their partner and, therefore, they often do not recognise, acknowledge or seek out help or support for themselves. 

Thus, they may disregard any low or angry feelings or anxieties they may be experiencing.   Not only will this take a toll on them as individuals, but it often means that their relationship with both their partner and child(ren) can suffer.

For those who do seek support, it can be difficult to find, due mainly to important gaps in service provision. Fathers are crucial sources of support to both their partner and child(ren) during the perinatal period, but research suggests that many are silently carrying the burden of their own mental distress.

A gap in mental health support for fathers

There is still very little research available on fathers’ experiences of perinatal mental health problems and the kinds of support they need, thereby limiting our ability to identify and help fathers who are struggling. Arguably however, it is important, first and foremost, that a ‘two-parent’ inclusive approach is adopted by health and social care professionals to help identify mental health difficulties in both mums and dads as early as possible.

There is also a need for greater knowledge and awareness/recognition within society to tackle the stigma surrounding perinatal mental health problems in men. Researchers at Maynooth University’s Centre for Mental Health and Community Research have started a new project called ‘PEARL’ (Perinatal mEntal heAlth seRvices in IreLand). PEARL includes exploring perinatal mental ill health among fathers, including its impact at both an individual and family level and the kind of support men need — many of whom are suffering in silence.

How/where can fathers get help? 

Sources of information and support are also provided below. If you, or anyone you know, might be interested in taking part in the PEARL project, contact Mary Maguire at [email protected] or Professor Sinéad McGilloway at [email protected].

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