IFMHD 2020: Blogs
Fathers and Covid
Lecturer in Children's Nursing, Sheffield Hallam University
Paternal mental health and men’s wellbeing overall is becoming an increasing public health concern which needs to be everyone’s business. New fathers in particular are vulnerable to postnatal depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and stress from pregnancy through to the postnatal period. Whereas in the past we associated postnatal depression only with new mothers and believed this to have a purely hormonal basis, we are now understanding more about the social influences on mental health as we become parents. We know that both parents can experience distress as they become new parents and the nature and causes of this distress can vary from person to person and be dependent on circumstances such as whether someone is a first time parent, a person’s social circumstances, pre-existing mental health problems to name but a few.
What we also know is that we treat men and women differently in their transition to parenthood. Whilst we acknowledge the significant physical and emotional changes that women experience during this time and whilst quite rightly, their physical and psychological wellbeing is paramount, we are still not very good at acknowledging that men will undergo a profound change during this time and that the impact of these changes for both parents can be extremely challenging. Even for the most well supported new parents, extreme tiredness, relationship changes and stress can be overwhelming in the early weeks and months of parenthood. Those who lack social support and who feel isolated can experience significant distress.
In a number of studies, men report that being present at the birth of their babies is the most life changing experience they have ever gone through. For some men, this is when the reality of fatherhood is felt for the first time. Being able to stay with their partners during the first hours and first night after the birth is something that both new mothers and new fathers find extremely beneficial not only for the formation of their new family and bonding but also so they can provide support to their partner. In circumstances where the birth has not been particularly straight forward, being able to stay with mother and baby post-birth can be a time to begin to process such trauma and be somewhat reassured that everyone is physically well.
We are now in exceptional times with the global Covid-19 pandemic and many maternity units have had to make difficult decisions about the presence of birth partners and allowing fathers to come onto wards post-birth. Irrespective of our position on this decision, we know that this is going to have an impact on both mothers’ and fathers’ mental health as we come through the other side to whatever our new normal will be. Current perinatal mental health services generally do not see fathers in their core provision and whilst men can be referred to services such as IAPT, it may well be third sector and grass roots organisations who will see those men who are looking for support. As a community we need to increase our understanding of the needs of new fathers. Men want to support their partners and have close and connected relationships with their children. They can only do that if they are well supported and are feeling well themselves. Now more than ever, new fathers will need all of those around them to support them with this. Grandparents, workmates, health visitors, midwives, friends and other relatives will be key here. Let’s create a strong and supportive village for both new parents and go that extra mile to ensure we are asking dads if they are OK. The impact of supporting new dads now will have a significant impact on their partners and their children now and in the future.