Unexpected Stress New Fathers May Experience
Over the past 30 years, there has been very slow and gradual growth in the awareness of the side effects of ill-health experienced by men. There has been very limited exploration into ill-health experienced by new fathers, especially depression and anxiety during the perinatal period (the period immediately before and after the birth of a child). We often assume that new parents should be the happiest people on earth, tired, but happy. As a society, we’ve been made aware of female postnatal depression, however it’s not surprising that the idea of depression in new fathers seems like a pretty far-fetched concept as it’s rarely spoken about or studied.
A 2017 study by O’Brien from the University of Newcastle, Australia found that “more than 10% of fathers experience depression and anxiety during the perinatal period.” When this writer read this stat to her partner, the response was “10%? That’s nothing” however 1 in 10 women have postnatal depression which matches the male statistic. O’Brien goes onto explain how “few mainstream treatment options are available for men with PPND and anxiety” even though “PPND and anxiety were identified to have a negative impact on family relationships, as well as the health of mothers and children.” With a lack of support and treatments tailored to new fathers, it’s optimistic to see that scientists like O’Brien are looking into ways to support them. For now, we’ve searched out a few science-backed methods to help cope with becoming and being a new dad.
Coping Methods For New Fathers
Regular contact with mothers during the perinatal period
“Men in the age group 20–35 years rarely seek medical advice unless they have acute symptoms, and are reluctant to seek advice regarding emotional health issues” states Dr Richard J Fletcher. However, this could change “through antenatal clinics, general practitioners and early childhood clinics.” They create an opportunity to share information with their partners from a father’s perspective. “This will assist new fathers to distinguish between mood disorders and the normal stress occasioned by a new baby.” They also suggest that clinicians provide a self-assessment tool such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). This scale has been validated for use by English-speaking fathers postnatally and is freely available as a “self-test.”
Highlighting The Importance Of A Father’s Wellbeing
Becoming a new father (and mother) can mean that you push your own needs to the side, to focus all your energy on caring for this new being you’ve created. However, many studies show that if the child’s parents’ mental wellbeing are out of sync then this can negatively affect the entire family.
That’s why dedicated telephone help lines are being piloted for new fathers during the perinatal period. These include Families Need Fathers and Family Action. By looking after your own mental and physical wellbeing and sharing your worries and fears, studies have shown that this can be beneficial to the entire family.
Group Support Networks
Joining a support network of other newbies has been shown to really boost moral. Addressing depression and anxiety among new fathers by Richard J Fletcher highlights the ways in which preparing for fatherhood with fellow fathers may help. “Many couples attend classes to prepare for childbirth. In recent times, some services have piloted the inclusion of father-specific sessions in these programs, usually facilitated by male health workers. In one region where father-only sessions have been established as part of standard antenatal care, an evaluation study found that fathers valued the opportunity to discuss their parenting role with other fathers and strongly endorsed the value of the session.”
Other studies have found that making the father aware of the emotions the mother will be going through, can significantly enhance relationships with the baby and mother. Thanks to her partner’s increased awareness of what she was experiencing.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Stress can affect all of us in different ways. And learning how to take control of our reactions to different stressors can make the difference between coping and drowning. When you become a new father, you’ll be going through new stresses, new ways of living and so much more than you could ever imagine. And you may even struggle to connect with the new baby at first. Whatever it is that is pushing your stress and anxiety to its limits, cognitive behavioural therapy may be able to help. The UK’s NHS describes CBT as a “therapy (that) can help you make sense of overwhelming problems by breaking them down into smaller parts… And help to stop negative thought cycles.”
Stress, depression and anxiety for new fathers is finally becoming a talked about topic. And hopefully new strategies to cope and handle the stress will emerge. Which can only be a good thing. What can we take from these emergent studies? It seems like the theme of talking reoccurs in each coping mechanism. Whether it’s connecting with a friend, opening up to a colleague or starting a brand new dialogue with the baby’s mother. And it’s worth noting that you’re not alone, as 1 in 10 new fathers are walking the same path with you.
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