More support needed for fathers in perinatal period

Nicole Weinstein
Thursday, November 19, 2020

A leading campaigner for father’s mental health has launched a report of his findings of the past ten years, which highlights 25 key proposals for change.

Campaigner Mark Williams says fathers needs support during the perinatal health period, as well as mothers
Campaigner Mark Williams says fathers needs support during the perinatal health period, as well as mothers

Mark Williams’ report, Fathers Reaching Out: Why Dads Matter, aims to raise awareness of the issues surrounding paternal mental ill health and to push members of Parliament, the Department of Health and Social Care and Commissioners to a call of ‘urgent action’.

He told Nursery World, ‘It cannot be emphasised enough that the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK is suicide. Studies have shown that fathers with mental health problems during the perinatal period are up to 47 times more likely to be classed as a suicide risk than at any other time in their lives.

‘As research increases around paternal mental health, we feel that we have sufficient evidence to lead to a change in policies and protocols by the World Health Organisation to include fathers’ mental health. We want the WHO Commissioners to understand the importance of “Think Family”, to include and support all parents during the perinatal period.’

He added, ‘Also, to acknowledge that dads struggle as well as mums during this time. Many men have a past history of anxiety, depression and trauma before becoming a parent and by supporting all parents it has a far better outcomes for everyone including the development of the child.’

Although it is still early days, Mr Williams, who is the founder of Fathers’ Reaching Out, said there is ‘anecdotal evidence’ that the Covid-19 pandemic, and the resultant limitations imposed on ‘normal life’, have made paternal postnatal depression worse.

In January 2019, NHS England announced that, for the very first time, some fathers would now be screened for their mental health if the partner has postnatal depression.

FINESSE, an international group of researchers interested in fathers’ experiences, has launched a global survey exploring implications of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions on new fathers’ experiences.
Writing in the report’s preface, chair of the organisation, Professor
Minesh Khashu, consultant neonatologist at Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Visiting Professor of Perinatal Health at Bournemouth University, said, ‘Better engagement of dads plays a critical role in supporting mothers, decreasing risk and improving the integrity and resilience of the family unit.

'The experiences of fathers today are in many ways suboptimal. Improved support for fathers, especially those with mental health illness, will improve the engagement of fathers in fatherhood, transform their experience and – most importantly – will improve health outcomes not just for the father but for the child, for the mother, the family and society at large.’

Here are some of the key recommendations made in the report:

  1. More support for paternal mental health during the perinatal period, in order to assist the father in becoming the best version of himself, ensuring that he is able to provide support for the mother’s mental health, as well as protecting against any negative impact that this could have on the child, overall giving rise to better outcomes for the child in the longer term.
  2. Enquiries into paternal deaths, in the same way as MBRRACE-UK18 (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK) is reporting on maternal deaths, highlighting causes and outcomes in order to make policy users consider ways in which they can reduce the deaths of mothers and infants in the future.
  3. The introduction and use of appropriate methods of mental health screening of all fathers-to-be/partners during the perinatal period.
  4. Specialist mental health services for new fathers available in all areas of the UK.
  5.  A map of paternal mental health services for new fathers, covering dad-focused antenatal programmes, apps, online communities where safeguarding would be assured, and/or sources of information.
  6. The provision of services which concentrate on fathers’ emotional needs and ways of managing anger and distress, to help fathers understand and express what they are feeling and to promote other, more positive, ways of coping

 

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