Mental Health Support For New Dads is Crucial

Over the last six months we've focused our attention on dads' mental health. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 in Scotland. In an attempt to reduce this heart-breaking statistic we have been running the 'How Are You Dad?' pilot project. Funded by the Scottish Government, we've trained nearly 70 professionals from the NHS, local authorities, third sector organisations and the private sector to check in with new dads about how they're feeling. This Father's Day, we're releasing the evaluation for that pilot, backed up with the data from our recent Dads' Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey. 

Feedback for our 'How Are You Dad?' training sessions is overwhelmingly positive. We call for our recommendations from the pilot to be addressed in light of our survey of fathers' mental health in Scotland. These results make for shocking reading and highlight the need - now more than ever - for all of us to consider the importance of dads' mental health for the whole family.

We surveyed dads in Scotland who have become a father in the last 5 years and we are so grateful to the 117 men who helped us with our research. Almost three-quarters of dads said that it has been one of the greatest experiences of their life, which is wonderful. However, almost three-fifths said their mental health has suffered since the arrival of their youngest/only child and a quarter said they feel like they cannot cope and that they are not a good dad.

 

Of the 102 dads who scored their mental health and wellbeing, more than a quarter said it was bad or very bad.

Child and Family Services across Scotland takes its approach using the National Practice Model: Getting it Right for Every Child, or GIRFEC. The model makes it clear that our practice must be focused primarily on the health and wellbeing needs of a child, supporting the family around the child. However, three fifths of dads said their mental health gets in the way of good connections with their children. So if we're putting children at the centre of perinatal care, it's of vital importance that we consider dads' mental health.

of dads said their mental health gets in the way of good connections with their children.

According to the Fatherhood Institute, up to 50% of dads who support mums with postnatal depression go on to suffer from postnatal mental illness themselves. However, 77% of dads whose partners experienced postnatal mental health difficulties were not engaged by the health professionals who were supporting mum.

of dads were not engaged with by the health professionals supporting their partners through mental illness.

We were heartened to discover of the fathers who said their mental health had suffered, around half sought professional help. However, 83% percent of them found it difficult to find the support they needed.

of the dads who looked for professional support said it was not easy or not possible to find the help they needed.

From this survey, we can see that dads' mental health needs to be addressed by those who come into contact with them at the earliest opportunity. The aims of the 'How Are You Dad?' training were to increase professionals' 1) Knowledge, 2) Confidence and 3) Practice change when working with dads. As part of the pilot we held over 8 sessions with 69 attendees from the NHS (midwives, health visitors, infant feeding specialists and perinatal mental health practitioners), councils, third sector organisations and the private sector.

Participants were asked to evaluate the quality of the workshop. 100% of participants said they would recommend the training. 96% of those who attended said that they have been able to identify small changes to their practice that will support dads' mental health. One participant told us:

 

“I was just not previously aware of the impact that dad's mental health has on families - our training as midwives and our whole ethos has always been “woman centred". This training really opened my eyes to the importance of paternal mental health awareness and how easy it is for us as practitioners to help."
One of the most challenging things to measure is the impact on the men who our trainees have been working with. However, an astounding 60% noticed a positive impact on dads within just 4 weeks. As a result of learning about the signs and symptoms of male postnatal depression, one midwife even assisted a dad to embark on an inpatient stay to support his mental health, which is incredibly reassuring to hear. 

 

"I asked a patient whilst at an antenatal appointment how her partner was at home and it really opened a whole can of worms - she voiced concerns around his mental health, she didn't know what to do, who she could speak to, she didn't want social work involved etc. The long and short is her partner ended up having a short inpatient stay and received help from mental health services and the outcomes so far are positive! All just from asking a small question."

As a result of our survey and 'How Are You Dad' evaluation, we are making a number of key recommendations. You can read the full report here.

You can also find the full findings from our Dads' Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey here.

In summary, we recommend that the 'How Are You Dad?' training be embedded within the National Perinatal Mental Health Curriculum and within undergraduate and postgraduate midwifery and health visitor courses. We would like to create material templates to help practitioners engage and support fathers and ensure that each Health Board Area develops clear guidance for staff and services that may encounter fathers who may have profound or acute mental health problems requiring clinical intervention and support. We hope to roll out the training by taking it to all health boards across Scotland.  

For more information, please contact Kirsty Nicholls at kirsty@fathersnetworkscotland.org.uk or 07976926081. If you’d like to receive updates from Fathers Network Scotland about our work, our online father-friendly resources, our campaigns, events and services, we would welcome you to sign up here.