While the mental health problems experienced by mothers tend to be widely recognised and documented, in comparison, little attention has been shown to new fathers. However, since a recent 'radical initiative' introduced at the end of last year by NHS England, men are now being offered support with their mental health if their partners are struggling with their own wellbeing.
When it comes to young fathers, research has shown that they are sometimes more prone to issues with their mental health than older fathers, They are also exposed to negative assumptions and judgements, which can also exist around the idea of the 'young father' with depictions of them in the media as absent or irresponsible. In fact only 10% of non-resident fathers will lose contact with their children over time.
The stress and anxieties that come with being a new parent are not gender specific and it has been estimated that 25% of new fathers will experience depression in the first year. This is not to say that mothers' struggles with mental health are not important, but the level of support that is readily given to men is significantly less, despite an increase in men moving into the role of primary care-giver.
Scientifically speaking, bodily changes such as a decrease in testosterone and an increase in other hormones like prolactin, occur in men a few months before childbirth. These changes are intended to help equip the father with the skills crucial for caring for a newborn, but they can also lead to higher chances of developing clinical depression or mood disorders.
New research has shown that a fathers mental health has a powerful impact on child development, with evidence showing that sensitive and supportive men have children who will develop better social skills and language, regardless of socioeconomic status and other factors. Despite this, research has shown that even though a father's mental health is closely correlated with that of a mother's, only 16% of fathers in Scotland have been asked about it by NHS maternity staff.
Most of us will be aware, through evidence or education, of what biological, psychological, and relationship changes might look like for a new mother. However, less of us will feel knowledgable about what might be going on for new fathers.
This fathers Day, we encourage you to help us bridge this gap and to open your mind to a better understanding of mental health in men, to improve the wellbeing of the whole family by supporting every member.