Why fathers’ mental health matters in the pre- and perinatal period

Did you know that 1 in 10 dads suffer from postnatal depression – that’s 75,000 dads each year in the UK. Furthermore, according to NCT research, up to 38% of new dads are worried about their mental health.

Looking after an infant is often a challenge for both parents. It is increasingly recognised that postnatal depression and other perinatal mental illnesses and disorders can be experienced by men as well as women.
We now understand that becoming a father and experiencing fatherhood can be a stressful and isolating experience.

It is quite possible that the increased pressures of fatherhood – which mean little sleep, extra responsibilities, greater financial challenges, and changes in relationships and lifestyles – will all affect the father’s mental health.
Research has shown that one in 10 new fathers suffer from postnatal depression, very similar to the figure for new mothers.

Once education, universal assessment and screening processes are introduced, this figure will no doubt be higher – I believe that the figure for mothers has increased now that they are being routinely assessed, and this is supported by Wisner et al’s (2013) finding that almost 22% of women suffer from postnatal depression during the first year post-partum – thus highlighting the need for much more to be done to support fathers in the perinatal period.

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.
Surely now is the time to act and make a difference?
Fathers Reaching Out – Why Dads Matter was published by Mark Williams in 2020.
Mark is a campaigner for fathers’ mental health and has done a great deal to both raise awareness and effect real change.
The report was intended to be read by all those involved in the provision of perinatal mental health services across the UK and globally, including in particular those with the potential to achieve policy change at the highest level.
The report shared the findings that Mark gathered throughout his 10 years of work with ‘Fathers Reaching Out’, in order to raise awareness of the issues surrounding paternal mental ill health and the impact this can have on individual families as well as wider society, and to identify and highlight key proposals for change.
The report made 25 key recommendations, including more support for fathers, enquiries into paternal deaths, increased paternal mental health screening, specialist mental health support for fathers, greater support for men becoming fathers.
Early prevention programmes were also recommended, such as improving engagement with fathers by healthcare professionals, as well as services that make fathers aware of changes that occur to their body and emotional needs, promoting more positive ways of coping.
Perinatal mental health issues might take a number of forms:
● Paternal depression – clinically similar to maternal depression, including low mood and lack of enjoyment. They might not feel good enough, hopeless, not knowing how to be a better father than their own, etc. However, fathers might express their emotions differently, perhaps externalising their feelings in such a way that their actions might be viewed as aggressive or cold, which can lead to misinterpretation.
● Suicidal ideation
● Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
● Paternal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Sobering statistics
● An average of 10.4% of fathers are depressed both pre- and post-natally, with the peak time for fathers’ depression being between three and six months post-birth (Paulson & Brazemore, 2010).
● 24%-50% of new dads with partners suffering from depression were also affected by depression themselves (Goodman, 2004)
● 33% of young fathers wanted support for their mental health and there was nothing for them (NCT)
● 20% of new dads felt completely isolated during their first year of fatherhood (Movember)
● 33% of dads were stressed during the perinatal period (Movember)

Where to find support
If you are a new father, or about to become a father and you are worried, unsure who to talk to, anxious or feel you need more support, you are not alone.
There are a number of organisations who are there for you and who you can talk to:
● MIND – helpline 0300 123 3393 or text 86463
● PANDAS –, 0843 2898401
● APNI –, 0207 386 0868
If you’re in emotional pain or a crisis, you can receive free 24/7 confidential support via the Baby Buddy Emotional Support Helpline – Text BABYBUDDY to 85258 for free, anonymous support via text message, any time of day or night.

Read the report
This feature has been adapted with kind permission from the report, Fathers Reaching Out – Why Dads Matter: 10 years of findings on the importance of fathers’ mental health in the perinatal period, which was published by Mark Williams in September 2020.
It can be downloaded here:
For more information on Mark’s work, campaigns, training, books and latest research, visit:

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