New fathers should get better mental health support so they can help take the ‘pressure’ off mothers, NHS chiefs have said.
The NHS in England is expanding support services for partners of women who have had a baby, with options being trialled including face-to-face counselling, organised ‘dad-and-kids’ pram walks and Zoom games nights.
Research shows around one in four women experience mental health issues during pregnancy or in the postnatal period.
Up to half of partners of mothers with postnatal depression also have depression themselves.
In a blog post, NHS England’s associate national clinical director for perinatal mental health, Dr Giles Berrisford, and chief midwifery officer, Professor Jaqueline Dunkley-Bent, praised new services which were supporting ‘fathers who are scared and overwhelmed or unsure how to support their partners’.
The NHS in England is expanding support services for partners of women who have had a baby, with options being trialled including face-to-face counselling, organised ‘dad-and-kids’ pram walks and Zoom games nights
They wrote: ‘Through [these] activities, new dads can gain confidence as parents and talk about their mental health – and this makes a real difference to how they can then support mothers.’
They also raised concerns the image of mothers as ‘our modern times superheroes’ was heaping pressure on pregnant women and new mothers.
‘Mothers are often seen as the pillars of family life. This comes with a lot of pressure and can negatively impact women,’ they wrote.
‘Pregnancy and becoming a mother can be extremely challenging…
‘We need to take the pressure off and support mothers, especially those who face depression, anxiety, psychosis and/or trauma.’
Read more: Pregnant women are being abandoned by NHS, damning report warns in wake of horrifying maternity scandals
The plans to increase mental health support for fathers is part of a raft of measures aimed at preventing suicides in new parents.
Other plans include extending the period within which women can access postnatal mental health support to two years after birth, up from 12 months, and rolling out dedicated Maternal Mental Health Services which combine services for women experiencing pregnancy and postnatal mental health conditions, as well as those dealing with infertility, baby loss and birth trauma.
Pregnancy and postnatal mental health problems cost the NHS an estimated £1.2 billion every year, while costing the wider economy around £8.1billion – largely due to the impact of mothers’ mental health problems on their children.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in the UK, with the latest figures showing suicide rates during or up to six weeks from the end of pregnancy tripled in 2020, compared to 2017 to 2019.
There are thought to be just four perinatal mental health services in the country which offer support to partners – in Leeds, Cornwall, Nottingham and Southampton.
In Leeds – the first NHS trust to introduce a service for fathers – partners of women who are under the perinatal mental health team are able to access support including a monthly Zoom general knowledge quiz.
The quiz is designed to encourage fathers to bond so they ultimately end up sharing their experiences.
Peer support worker Errol Murray said: ‘It’s a bit of fun but it helps them feel distracted from whatever is happening at home and helps to lighten the load.
‘It’s a way of getting men to bond and feel confident talking with other people. Unless you have got that, no one is going to share how they’re feeling.’
The service also offers face-to-face group sessions – which offer more in-depth discussions of issues like how to bond with babies – and monthly ‘dad and kids’ park walks.
Fathers are also able to attend baby sensory classes within NHS premises, which are specifically aimed at encouraging fathers to bond with their babies.
‘By supporting partners we are able to help mums in their recovery [from perinatal mental health conditions],’ Murray added.