How to Support Dads with Their Mental Health

Up until fairly recently, the general consensus was that only the birthing person could experience perinatal mental illness. We now know partners can struggle with their mental health too. Although it’s important to include same-sex couples and other family types in this conversation, today I want to focus on dads.

Postnatal Depression in Dads

Not that long ago, the idea men could experience perinatal mental illness like postnatal depression (PND) was completely unheard of. We now know they can. PND is thought to affect as many as one in 10 men (source). This not only suggests postnatal depression isn’t purely the result of hormonal changes, but it also tells us social factors probably play a bigger role in its development.

Like their partners, men can experience lots of challenges during pregnancy and beyond. For example, if their partner has a difficult pregnancy and is in and out of hospital. The impact of this can be huge, especially if they’re trying to work and look after other children while their partner is struggling with a pregnancy related illness. If there are complications when the baby is born, dad may not experience the paternity leave he’s envisaged. Instead of spending two weeks in a baby bubble at home, he may have to cope with both his partner and new baby being unwell.

PND in mums can affect dads too. When someone struggles with their own mental health, it puts their partner more at risk of developing mental health issues. On top of this, there is pressure on dads to be ‘the strong one’, making them more likely to repress their feelings and act like everything is okay. Unfortunately, when we try to resist or ignore emotions they tend to persist, causing an array of difficulties.

It’s Not Just Depression

It’s not just depression men can experience in the perinatal period. They can also struggle with perinatal OCD, an anxiety disorder characterised by unwanted intrusive thoughts that create intense distress. These thoughts lead the sufferer to feel compelled to do something to prevent harm being caused to either themselves or others. Those with OCD feel overly responsible to prevent harm and can spend hours and hours completing rituals that they believe will stop or lessen the likelihood of this happening. Read Coping with Perinatal OCD for more information.

Men can also experience birth trauma. Alongside being scared, a father watching their partner experience a complication during labour (for example a haemorrhage or their baby needing to be resuscitated) can often feel quite helpless and powerless. This can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or anxiety, especially in relation to their baby, their partner’s safety, and health in general. Read Coping with Birth Trauma to learn more.

Signs & Symptoms to Look Out For

Caring for a newborn can be overwhelming and exhausting. As such, it’s not unusual for dads to experience some or all these symptoms for a certain amount of time. What you need to look out for is the frequency and intensity of them. If they’re happening a lot, you’re finding them difficult to cope with, or they’re impacting your life to a significant degree, you may need support to feel better.

  • Difficulty sleeping even when the baby sleeps
  • Changes in your libido
  • Changes in your appetite
  • Feeling like you’re not coping
  • Feeling anxious, worrying a lot and/or experiencing self-critical thoughts
  • Finding it hard to relax
  • Feeling snappy and irritable
  • A desire to withdraw and/or not wanting to do things you normally enjoy such as going to the gym or meeting up with friends
  • Feeling like you need to be at work or out the house all the time because going home is too stressful

Nobody Has to Cope on Their Own

Reaching out for support can be particularly difficult for men, especially during the perinatal period. Although we’ve come a long way, there’s still a great deal of societal stigma around men struggling with their mental health.

If you’re a man whose partner is pregnant or has recently had a baby, I want to remind you your feelings are valid, and they matter as much as anyone else’s. If you’re struggling, I’d encourage you to seek support. You’ll find useful links and resources below. Remember, it’s safe to talk about your feelings. Rather than judgement, you’ll be met with compassion and understanding.

If you’re pregnant or you’ve recently had a baby, I would recommend speaking to your partner and asking him how he’s feeling. If he’s finding it hard to cope, he may be worried about burdening you with his problems. It’s important to emphasise open communication benefits everyone. Pushing things down and trying to cope on your own might help in the short term, but in the long-term it can do more harm than good. Remind him he’s more likely to feel better by talking and sharing the load. Once you know what he needs, you can find ways to get his needs met together.

Support for Dads

I had an in-depth chat with Scott Mair, fathers’ mental health trainer, campaigner and advocate, about the types of support available to men during the perinatal period. You can listen to our conversation here.

Useful Links

Dad Pad

Dad Matters

Postnatal Depression in Men and Partners

Baby Blues or Postnatal Depression?



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