Should we screen new dads for depression too?

Australian fatherhood experts have called for dads to be included in national efforts to screen new parents for depression.

Screening mothers for mental illness before and after birth is now standard practice in Australia, but the mental health of dads is not routinely assessed at any point. 

Writing in The Conversation, three of Australia’s leading academics in the field of fatherhood research (Richard Fletcher, Jacqui McDonald and Louise Newman) say that supporting men in early parenting is a key national strategy in promoting community mental health. 

An estimated 1 in 3 new parents who experience depression are men, with around 30,000 new dads affected every year. Paternal depression not only impacts the lives and health of men, it can also have an impact on mums, children and society, say researchers.

For example:

  • A father’s mental health is one of the most influential predictors of mother’s mental health
  • Children whose dads have depression are three times more likely to have behavioural problems and twice as likely to have mental health problems
  • The impact on productivity of paternal depression has been estimated at over $200m a year (2012 figures)


FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT INVOLVED FATHERHOOD

In Australia, the national perinatal initiative has involved all states in screening mothers with health staff given training to improve referrals for mothers. To date, there has been no parallel initiative to make services more male-friendly and improve staff engagement with dads.

The call for more action to identify and support new dads with mental health issues was prompted by news from the UK that fathers are to be included in perinatal mental health initiatives as part of a long-term national health plan.

The UK has decided that perinatal mental health, with fathers included, will become an ongoing feature of its long-term national health plan. The focus at this stage is to target support at high risk families where both mum and dad are experiencing depression, anxiety and more serious mental illness.

According to Fletcher, Macdonald and Newman, Australia should follow the NHS’s example and in addition, work to “develop approaches to true early intervention and mental health support that benefit parents and infants”.

Such approaches should be integrated in the National Men’s Health Strategy.

FURTHER READING

Men get post natal depression too, and as the mother's main support, they need help: The Conversation

Reasons to ask dads about sleep: AMHF 

10 surprising facts about men's health: AMHF

Australian Fatherhood Research Consortium 2019: AMHF

Healthy Dads? The challenge of being a new father: Beyond Blue

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    commented on Should we screen new dads for depression too? 2019-02-26 22:01:59 +1000
    Good article. As much as I love my daughter, becoming a father was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I’d never planned or wanted to become a father and the news that I was going to become one began a spiral of deep depression. That only really began to change when I held my daughter for the first time and fell in love (bonded) with her. Through the prenatal, birth and postnatal period I was at best ignored and more often made to feel unwelcome – there were times when I literally checked my shoes in case I’d accidentally trodden in something unpleasant. The experience was so overwhelmingly negative that I resolved to never have another child. The chief lesson I learned at the time is that fathers aren’t valued and my experience in the decade since the birth of my daughter has only confirmed that impression. There is currently very little support of any kind for fathers. I can fully understand why some buckle under the crushing weight of responsibility.