NHS mental health checks for dads: a ‘landmark’ recognition of impact

5 December 2018

The Fatherhood Institute has welcomed a ‘landmark’ move by NHS England to offer mental health checks to fathers whose partner’s mental health is poor.

Adrienne Burgess, joint CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, said:  “This policy announcement marks the first time the NHS has formally acknowledged fathers’ powerful impact on mother and infant, and we look forward to the benefits this ‘whole family’ approach will bring. As identified in our important research review Who’s the Bloke in the Room, the new mother’s most important support person is her partner who, in 95% of cases, is the biological father of her child.

“Expectant and new parents’ mental health conditions are closely intertwined; and when he is supportive she is less likely to become ill and more likely to recover quickly.  Furthermore, poor paternal mental health puts his partner and infant at risk; and in some cases, couple-relationship problems are the main issue and the greatest benefits will flow from addressing the couple’s relationship, rather than simply the mother’s mental health.”.

The support for fathers/mothers’ partners, according to the NHS England press release, may include “peer-support, behavioural couples therapy sessions and other family and parenting interventions in specialist community perinatal mental health settings or referred to a leading psychological talking therapy programme”.  The Fatherhood Institute also has it on good authority that the “other family and parenting interventions” can include couple/coparenting and father/infant interventions. Resources will NOT be snatched from mothers to assess/support fathers.

The NHS England press release confirms that assessments and support for partners will be part of a much wider expansion of perinatal mental health services that will be announced in the NHS Long Term Plan (which will be accompanied by additional funding).

While this week’s announcement only refers to men whose partner is at risk due to her own poor mental health, the case for including the father/woman’s partner formally in maternity care and addressing his circumstances, characteristics and information-needs more widely is building.

Indeed, as part of this weekend’s announcement, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens declared that “the NHS has a role to play in helping to support the whole family” – and not just in relation to perinatal mental health.  In some districts, this is already happening:  fathers’ details are being routinely gathered and recorded in maternity services, due to awareness of his impact in a range of other areas:  family obesity, smoking, breastfeeding.

The Fatherhood Institute will be monitoring implementation of the policy carefully.

Read our blog about how the announcement played in the media.


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