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Depression risk puts focus on new fathers

Depression risk puts focus on new fathers
Photo: Depression risk puts focus on new fathers
Many people know that mothers are at risk of anxiety and depression during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby. But it’s a lesser-known fact that many new fathers are also experiencing postnatal and antenatal depression.

Surprisingly, as many as one in 10 fathers will experience depression during the pregnancy and in early parenthood. Yet, the transition to fatherhood isn’t part of routine screening for mental health risk. Fortunately, that’s set to change thanks to a new initiative that will screen new fathers for depression.

NSW Health has launched Focus on New Fathers (FONF), a pilot program that will target 30,000 new fathers using an innovative digital platform. The FONF pilot SMS4dads will use SMS to reach out to men expecting a baby, provide information to support them in the transition to fatherhood and screen to identify depression risk.
Developed by researchers from the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute, SMS4dads will use the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale to monitor mental health while also providing expectant fathers with tips and information about infant development.

Fathers who are identified as at-risk will be contacted by the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia helpline. It is also anticipated that the initiative will increase clinician awareness of male postnatal depression and increase confidence in providing support to new fathers.

SMS4dads lead Associate Professor Richard Fletcher says the initiative takes father’s mental health awareness to a new level.

“We know that a father’s mental health is vital to a well-functioning family.

“Health services recognise that dads can be depressed too, but this is the first State health service to pilot screening for fathers as part of health service provision on this scale.”

Most at risk new fathers

Statistics show that depression and anxiety are more common in new fathers with the following risk factors.

- History of depression
- Limited practical, emotional or social supports
- Burdened by financial stress
- Current or past experiences with drugs or alcohol
- A sick baby
- Major life of relationship difficulties
- Reality of parenting different to expectations 


Clinical psychologist and Movember Global Director of Mental Health Training Dr Zac Seidler welcomes the screening of new fathers for depression, saying the initiative is long overdue.

“New dads today are faced with the daunting task of balancing existing masculine pressures to be a provider and protector with also being a carer and bringing that emotional awareness and vulnerability to the table.”

However, the screening and detecting depression in new fathers needs to be backed up with quality, clinical interventions that improve mental health.

“While this multi-faceted fatherhood role is definitely a positive step for dads, there’s no denying that it also has its difficulties.

“Screening can assist us to understand the full extent of the issue in this at-risk group, and start to find inroads to intervene and improve mental health outcomes.

“However, with increased screening, comes increased diagnosis, so it will be critical to ensure that appropriate services and support are also available, in order to engage men in treatment and help them to get back on track more quickly,” says Dr Seidler.

Existing statistics tell us that one in 10 new fathers experience depression after the birth of their baby, and fathers with perinatal mental health problems are up to 47 times more likely to be considered at risk of suicide than at any other point in their lives.

“Mental health issues can creep up on new dads over time, as they often push on with a mix of silence and stubbornness.

“But if we can identify those signs of depression early, as those new stressors are beginning to travel to the surface, we might be able to catch those men before they slip through the cracks,” says Dr Seidler.

Sadly, becoming a father is a moment when too many men lose important social connections. Research from Movember shows that a quarter of Australian men felt socially isolated when first becoming a father.

As a result, over two-thirds of Australian dads surveyed (65%) experienced increased stress as a result of becoming a father, and of these, 23 per cent say they didn’t handle the stress well.

Dr Stephen Spencer, Clinical Nurse Consultant and mental health professional, agrees that screening is a good idea, but it needs to be part of a range of strategies to battle depression for men.

“We know that one thing us Aussie blokes are not so good at it is seeking help and being vulnerable.

“I think initiatives like ‘This is a conversation starter’ workwear campaign that the boys, Dan and Ed from TradeMutt are doing to implement change is amazing.

“It is broader strategies like this that will change societal and cultural beliefs and make the biggest impact.

“In my clinical work in an acute child and adolescent mental health inpatient setting the majority of the young people admitted are females.

“Young boys are significantly less likely to seek help, and when I do get a chance to work with them, the job seems so much more difficult to connect with them.

“I believe it is the ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude that permeates Aussie male culture that is our biggest barrier to Australian men acknowledging when they need help, with depression or any other health-related issue.”

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.