Post Natal Depression Support for Fathers

28 March 2004

Post natal depression support for men

A pioneering mental health programme for new fathers who could be at risk of a breakdown has been launched at a maternity unit in Essex. Midwives and nurses are trained to spot men, as well as women, with signs of stress and post-natal depression.  It is now recognised that men can develop depression post-natally, and that this is more likely when their partner is suffering from it.

A telephone helpline, counselling, leaflets and posters are all part of the service aimed especially at reaching young fathers.  HOWEVER, all fathers – not just young fathers – can receive the telephone and email support.  And while support is primarily for fathers in South Essex, some advice and information is available to fathers from other localities (see the end of this article for contact details).

Basildon Hospital already offers a helpline and counselling for mothers. The idea for a similar service for men came to Mary Alabaster, head of maternal mental health at South Essex Partnership Trust based at nearby Runwell Hospital.

Mary Alabaster said: “Fathers psychological health is a neglected area. We do a lot for mothers, but not for dads. When I see women, I am often left wondering how their partners are coping.

“Pregnancy and the arrival of a new baby are stressful times for a man too. How does he feel, how does he cope, what’s going inside his head? “Men by their very nature are not allowed to talk about their inner selves or express their feelings. Society expects them to be the provider and not to admit any emotional stress. The stress on some men must be enormous, but they can’t express it and they have to bottle it all up.

“The bottom line is – where do men get the support they need at this stressful time? Services are very fragmented and mostly directed at women and children, and are just not geared for men at all. Even GPs surgeries usually open from nine to five. What happens when men are at work?”

The initiative follows research that suggests a growing proportion of young men – especially young dads – could be suffering from psychological illness. The government’s national suicide strategy document, published last September, revealed that suicide is the commonest cause of death among men under 35.

Statistics also suggest that more relationships break down in the early years of fatherhood than at any other time, perhaps as a result of the stress of parenthood. Around one in three new fathers attending Basildon maternity unit already have at least one child under five.

In Basildon, health workers score fathers as well as mothers for “vulnerability” before and after childbirth, by asking questions about how they are coping at pre and post natal interviews. It does not matter if the men don’t give a clear answer – the hope is to “plant a seed”, so they know where to come for help later if they need to.

Experienced fathers have been recruited to learn counselling skills, and are providing a telephone helpline in association with the mental health charity MIND. Under the slogan “FM – Fathers Matter. Listen!” the initiative is promoted in the community, as well as in the maternity unit, clinics and GP surgeries.


For information about the project contact Mary Alabaster 01268 366018

For email support for fathers contact Mary Alabaster 01268 366018

For telephone helpline support contact 01268 556328